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Children of foreclosure falling behind in school

  • Story Highlights
  • California hit hard by foreclosures, falling home values, families moving
  • Modesto 4th graders say they miss friends, some of whom left without goodbyes
  • Study: Children who move twice in year are half as likely to be able to read proficiently
  • Children are resilient, teacher says, but have hard time focusing on their studies
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By Linda Hall
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MODESTO, California (CNN) -- Some of the people hit hardest by this bad economy are the youngest. Almost 2 million children nationwide have had or will have their lives disrupted by home foreclosures, according to one study.

The parents of 9-year-old Eunice have moved twice in the past year and said the mortgage still eats all their money.

There are more empty desks in Suzell Tougas's fourth grade classroom after 10 students have stopped coming.

These are the children whose families have had to move, sometimes more than once. The youngsters are pulled out of school, often leaving their friends behind without even saying goodbye.

Nine-year-old Kenia, who is in the fourth grade at Fairview Elementary School in Modesto, California, said that is what happened to her. She is new to the school, having moved to the area just a few months ago. She said it is really hard and she misses her friends.

Her classmate Bethany said her best friend since kindergarten just left without saying goodbye.

Heather Sharp, the principal at Fairview, said her school has been the one most affected by the bad economy in the Modesto City School system.

"We have, over the last couple of months, 50 students coming new to the school and 50 students leaving," Sharp said.

It was so bad that the school conducted a door-to-door search for missing students, she said.

"We had our community aide going out to houses. And they were boarded up, windows boarded, yard brown. She had to go to neighbors to find out where the kids were."

In terms of raw numbers, California had the most foreclosures of any state from 2007 through January 2009. More than 57,000 homes entered foreclosure. Many of those were in Stanislaus County, where home prices have declined 65 percent since December 2005, according to the Modesto Bee.

Fourth-grade teacher Suzell Tougas said she has lost 10 kids from her class so far this year and is braced to lose more. She usually has a room full of children with every desk occupied. Now, it "looks empty ... it's like a "ghost town".

She said constant moving is hard on kids.

"Just having to start over and start over is really hard on a child," Tougas said. "It takes six weeks for a child to adjust ... at least."

While children are in that period of adjustment, she said, they aren't learning and their studies suffer.

"The biggest issue is that when [children have to move] when there are other stressors going on, we know it puts these kids at greater risk for being behind in their academics," said Pat Popp, a past president of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

That is borne out in a recent study by a nonpartisan group in Washington called First Focus. It said that children who move twice in one year are only half as likely as others to be able to read proficiently, and may have a greater chance of being held back. It also found that moving a lot reduces the student's chance of graduating from high school by half. Read the report here

'American Morning'
Monday: American Morning looks at how relocating as a result of foreclosure has impacted school children.
6 a.m. - 9 a.m.

The report, published in May, estimated that 1.95 million children will be affected by foreclosure over the next two years.

The number of homeless students is increasing dramatically. A study by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children reported that more than 450 school districts across the nation had an increase of at least 25 percent in the number of identified homeless students between the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years. Read the report here (pdf)

A student who moves "may hear the same information again that you learned in your previous classroom or miss information that has already been covered in your class but wasn't taught in your previous school," Popp said.

The fallout from the rash of foreclosures likely will have a long-term impact on education, especially in California. Schools get much of their funding from property tax revenues. Real estate values are spiraling downward and so is the revenue.

At Fairview Elementary, Principal Sharp worries about students like 9-year-old Eunice, who has moved twice in the last year. Her parents told her that after they pay their mortgage this month, they won't have any money for a week.

But, Sharp said, children are resilient.

"We don't give them credit for what they can handle but, at the same time, the flip side is it's sad -- they shouldn't have to handle it. They should be able to know they can go to school and focus on reading and math and recess."

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