The relationship between home and school is evolving. Thousands of Oregon kids are home-schooled. For thousands of others, school offers things often thought of as part of home: like breakfast and clothes. Ethan has experienced both of those situations.
Ethan is a part of OPB's ongoing project, "Class of 2025." This spring, OPB caught up with Ethan at his school in the Reynolds School District. He was happy to be back in a public school classroom.
"It feels good to have friends and to be able to play with them," Ethan said. OPB first caught up with Ethan three years ago. His mother, Melissa, was homeschooling him in the family's rented mobile home in East Portland. OPB is not using Melissa's last name because she is a victim of domestic violence. "Remember how you always do the book, the chapter, and the verse you're saying …" Melissa said as her son looked at his child-sized Bible.
"Psalm of David. The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures," Ethan read. Ethan was seven years old and already a strong reader. If he were in school, he would've been in first grade. But Melissa said the local school he'd attended for kindergarten, Earl Boyles Elementary School, didn't respect the family's religious beliefs. Ethan had also been teased and bullied by other kindergarteners, Melissa said.
For first, second and third grades, Ethan was homeschooled. Then the family lost its rental in a mobile home park. Melissa said it was found to have mold and other toxic air problems, so they had no choice but to move out and leave their belongings behind. Ethan, his sister, and their mother, Melissa, bounced from the homes of family and friends, to shelters and motel rooms.
Last fall, the family was in east Multnomah County. Ethan enrolled in Shyla Middleton's fourth-grade classroom at Glenfair Elementary. "So when he's here, I love having him in class," Middleton said. "He's a really good student. He's really smart, he's really capable." Note that Middleton said, "when he's here." "He's got a lot of stuff going on at home, and that makes it really hard for him to get to school every day," Middleton said. "He'll be gone for maybe a week or two at a time, and so then it gets really hard for us to get that continuation of work." Ethan has gone from being at home all the time — including for school – to not having a home at all. He's part of Oregon's growing homeless student population: 21,000 kids and rising. In addition to moving out of the unhealthy rental in the trailer park, the family is trying to avoid an ex-boyfriend Melissa described as abusive. They have no car and little money. Housing in Portland is notoriously expensive. The morning OPB visited Ethan at Glenfair Elementary, the family had a short-term voucher to pay for a motel room, miles from school. "It's kind of hard to get to school, but it's nice to have somewhere to be," Ethan said. He recalled staying at motel rooms, a shelter and a family friend's house in the 14 months since they'd left. He said of all the places they'd stayed, he preferred the family friends' home.
"Because we lived just down the road from the school, and they're our best friends." There is a federal funding stream that supports transportation and other services to keep homeless students in their local schools. Glenfair Elementary is renowned for its support for homeless kids. But it's not perfect. Families may move miles for housing. Transportation might be paid for – but it may be too inconvenient. An hour after OPB interviewed Ethan at Glenfair, we returned to visit him in his math class – what he's called his toughest subject. He wasn't there. "He just got called and left. Like 15 minutes ago. I was like 'OK uh…?'" Middleton said. She said it happens a lot. "Usually it's not quite this early. I was surprised." Melissa had pulled Ethan out of school in an effort to get into a domestic violence shelter. Minutes after leaving Glenfair Elementary, the mother and two kids were on a bus going back to the motel. Melissa was hoping to get the stability, safety, and services of a shelter. "We need to go to the motel and pack what belongings we have there," Melissa said by cellphone from a TriMet bus. "So we can check out right away and head to the shelter. If at 12:30, when I call the shelter, and they do not accept us at this time, then we at least – the other option – the backup of an emergency motel voucher." We later heard that the family got into the shelter. Melissa appreciates its security and secret location. But that's caused Ethan to change schools.
Longer term, Melissa plans to move the family. She wants to avoid her abuser and find less expensive housing.
Editor’s note: Details from this story have been omitted from the original to protect the family’s safety.