During the 2012-2013 school year, more than 2,000 children ages
birth through grade 12 experienced homelessness in Allegheny
These figures, compiled by the Allegheny
Intermediate Unit's (AIU) Education for Children and Youth
Experiencing Homelessness Program (ECYEH), go beyond
children living in shelters. They include children who are
doubled-up with others, who live in hotels/motels or cars, or who
reside in homes without adequate utilities or that are not
appropriate for human habitation.
Through a new service-learning course, Carlow University is
reaching out to these children, helping them thrive, no matter
This fall, in conjunction with the AIU, Carlow introduced Professional Communities of Practice, providing service to the
community and equipping future educators with skills and
One of the preschool age children at the Carlow-led community services fair at Wilkinsburg's Hosanna House, December 4, 2013.
Rae Ann Hirsh, director of undergraduate early childhood
education at Carlow, teamed with the ECYEH's Sarah Aglio, community
liaison for Together Time, to offer a unique, eye-opening experience
that brought students directly into area homeless shelters.
Pairs of students were placed in four shelters: Sojourner House,
a drug and alcohol rehabilitative facility in East Liberty;
Sister's Place, scattered apartment transitional and permanent
housing in Clairton; Women's Space East, emergency shelter and
transitional housing in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood; and
Healthy Start House, transitional housing in Duquesne.
The students worked with children and their parents by
implementing the ECYEH's Together Time curriculum, a program
developed through the AIU's partnership with the Fred Rogers Company.
Carlow education student Bethany Scheboth, also a volunteer fire fighter for West Deer Station #3, taught preschoolers about fire safety during the fair. She is pictured here working on a craft project with the children.
Designed specifically for young children experiencing
homelessness, Together Time offers families a special time to
play and interact, gives parents techniques and ideas for everyday
learning, encourages the development of skills that children will
need to succeed in school, and strengthens the relationship between
parents and their children while they enjoy time
To date, Carlow is the only Pittsburgh-area university involved
with Together Time.
Ashley Blair, a senior early childhood education major from
Pittsburgh's Whitehall neighborhood, was placed at Women's Space
East and says the experience "broke my stereotypes."
"I learned a lot about myself," says Blair, "and I realized that
children, no matter where they come from, want to learn, and we
should give them all a chance."
Each child received a rhyme book — and practiced rhymes during circle time.
Aglio points out just how important the service-learning
experience is for future teachers. Once they are employed, she
says, they may teach homeless children without even realizing
"There is a misconception that homelessness is the man on the
street corner, or the family in a shelter," says Aglio. "There are
a lot more homeless individuals than people realize."
Hirsh invited individuals from various area agencies to speak to
her class-among them were Aglio, Carlow alum Jeanette Casciato from
Head Start, and Velma Parker, PIMS administrator/child account
specialist for the Wilkinsburg School
A homeless liaison for Wilkinsburg, Parker emphasizes the need
to reach the youngest children, who are not yet served by the
public school system.
"We can help the kids who are already enrolled in school," she says. "We can at least get them uniforms and backpacks. But it's harder to reach the younger kids who aren't in the system yet."
In an effort to better connect families with much-needed
resources, Parker and Aglio worked with Hirsh's students to create
a holiday-themed community fair, offered as the culminating project
of the course.
Carlow junior Alyssa Perkins, an early childhood/special education major from Bethel Park, created playhouses out of cardboard boxes — showing how simple, inexpensive materials can provide hours of fun.
Pre-school age children and their caregivers were invited to the
event, held at Wilkinsburg's Hosanna
House community center on Wednesday, December 4. They
received valuable information from area agencies and celebrated the
holiday season together as they created crafts, participated in
story time, and had a hot lunch. They also received Christmas
gifts, collected during a toy drive on Carlow's campus.
Agencies in attendance included the ECYEH program, Head
Family Support Center, Project ELECT,
Alliance for Infants and
Toddlers, Wilkinsburg Family Center, Pennsylvania
Association for the Education of Young Children, and the
"The personal growth I have seen in these students is
remarkable," says Hirsh. "This experience-and their commitment to
it-changed their future plans and helped them to realize these are
just kids who need love and support-like every other kid."
Learn more about our Early Childhood Education program which includes this Professional Communities of Practice course