1996 Finalist
Tacoma Public Schools, Washington
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

As of 1988, 277 homeless children lived in the city of Tacoma, Washington. According to the Department of Education, homelessness is one of the greatest barriers to a child's education because state and federal policies cannot guarantee access to schools. In 1988, 57 percent of homeless children did not attend school. The city of Tacoma understood the need to initiate an effective local education policy for its homeless youth.

In 1988, the Eugene P. Tone School was created to offer these children a safe, supportive educational environment. The school offers education levels from preschool through eighth grade. Its student body is comprised entirely of homeless children. The school is equipped with buses that stop at all the applicable homeless shelters in Tacoma to pick up and drop off Tone School students. The school provides instruction in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, art, health and physical education. Instruction for each child is based on academic level, rather than age.

The Tone School operates on three principle goals: student achievement, family involvement and student attendance. Tone School students bring with them a variety of physical and emotional needs and the school offers support services specifically to meet those needs. It offers social work, counseling, health provision, nutritional support, transportation, and family and community support. When the time comes, the school also helps students make the transition into regular schools.

Over eight years, the Tone School has provided nearly 100 percent of Tacoma's homeless children with an environment that allows them to learn under extremely adverse circumstances. All of the Tone School's students have been supplied with a wide range of services to assist them and their families cope with the social and emotional impact of homelessness. Individual student academic assessments have given the Tone School positive feedback from Tacoma's social service agencies.

Homelessness brings with it many emotional barriers to education. The Tone School has overcome these barriers both by providing a unique learning environment and by working within that environment to reduce the harmful effects of homelessness.