Harvard Educational Review
  1. Educational Experiences of Hidden Homeless Teenagers Living Doubled-Up

    Ronald E. Hallett

    New York: Routledge, 2012. 148 pp. $38.95.

    In Educational Experiences of Hidden Homeless Teenagers, Ronald E. Hallett draws our attention to the rarely discussed issues of homelessness among America’s youth. He introduces the reader to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which delineates how schools are to identify and support homeless students. Importantly, the act defines homeless broadly to include any individual “lacking a fixed, regular and adequate night-time residence” (p. 2). This not only encompasses children living in shelters, transitional programs, or other nontraditional shelters (e.g., cars, abandoned buildings, etc.), but it also includes students living in residences where multiple households have “doubled-up”
out of economic necessity. Hallett reports that youth living in doubled-
up homes comprise more than half of the homeless youth population, yet little research has been devoted to understanding them or their educational experiences. 

    Hallett sets out to do just that by aiming to understand how the residential environments of four doubled-up youth influence their participation in school. He situates his study within resiliency theory, a holistic framework that defines resilience as the successful adaptation of an individual in the face of adversity and that considers both risk and protective factors simultaneously. Using a case study approach, he provides an intimate look into the lives of Isaac, Marco, Juan, and Kylee, detailing their day-to-day routines from the early morning hours to their afterschool and weekend activities. Over the course of an academic school year, Hallett developed relationships with these four youth through interviews and observations. Isaac is a seventeen-year-old sophomore who regularly skipped school and had dropped out of high school by the end of the study. Marco, a seventeen-year-old senior, completed his requirements for a high school diploma and aspired to enroll in California State University. Kylee, a sixteen-year-old junior, attended school regularly but struggled academically. And Juan, a seventeen-year-old senior, was on track to graduate and planned to attend the University of California in Los Angeles.

    Hallett finds that the youth in his study hold a more inclusive definition of family that is not limited to biological relatives—especially when the structures of their homes are highly collaborative. He distinguishes between “merged residences” and “separate households.” The former refers to different household units that live within the same home and share responsibility for household tasks and the well-being of the children (including meeting educational needs). Merged residences provide a protective aspect by designating one adult in the household as responsible for finances and another for the educational progress, school attendance, and homework completion of all the children of the house. They are also able to pool resources, such as computers and Internet access. In this way, living doubled-up is not inherently a risk factor for the youth. Separate households, however, share responsibility toward rent but still operate as independent units within the same residence. In these cases, the parents of the respective households have to balance the financial and household duties, which may result in meeting the children’s basic necessities but doesn’t always allow for enough time or energy to dedicate to their educational needs. In addition to the residence’s cohesion, Hallett argues that social networks have different impacts on the youths’ academic involvement and aspirations. He discusses how mentors, who are often considered protective factors in resiliency theory, may not be always be effective, especially if the mentoring relationship is tenuous or sporadic. Through the narratives of Marco, Juan, Isaac, and Kylee, Hallett illustrates that the presence of any given factor, risk or protective, does not inherently determine a student’s educational trajectory; its influence depends on a number of other variables at play in the student’s life. Although all four of his participants are living in similarly stressful situations, their educational experiences differ and, consequently, so do their likely outcomes post-high school.

    Hallett encourages readers to acknowledge the diversity among students typically labeled “high risk” and not assume that this is an accurate description for all students living in low-income, urban neighborhoods. His contribution to education, thus, is twofold. He adds to our understanding of an understudied population (doubled-up youth and homeless youth generally), and he does so in a way that appreciates the complexity of homelessness and explicitly aims to stay away from deficit language. Furthermore, the author is reflective of his role in his participants’ lives, and his study illustrates the high degree of trust that must be built when doing qualitative research.

    However, with four chapters dedicated to detailed accounts of the daily lives of each youth, followed by a single chapter of analysis of the effect of the youths’ living situations on their educational participation, Educational Experiences of Hidden Homeless Teenagers reads as a richly descriptive text. What is gained by the structure of the book is an in-depth familiarity with each adolescent; but what is lost is a more fully developed understanding of the themes that emerged from the case studies, with the final discussion chapter seeming broad and not as well supported with specific examples from the youths’ lives. In addition, although the author’s commitment to using a resiliency framework is commendable, in many instances his narrative seemed to focus more on what was lacking and less on the strengths the adolescents bring to the table. This is not as much a critique of the author’s work as it is a challenge to education researchers invested in tackling deficit frameworks. How can we talk about youth in ways that honor their strengths and agency?

    Nonetheless, Hallett’s focus on resiliency is a step in the right direction. It is essential for educators and education researchers as it provides a more nuanced framework for understanding the complexity of homeless youths’ lived experiences. Given the high rates of homelessness among America’s youth, Hallett’s Educational Experiences of Hidden Homeless Teenagers provides valuable insight that is relevant to all educators, school leaders, and policy makers.
    s.b.
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    Book Notes

    Beyond Binaries in Education Research
    edited by Warren Midgley, Mark A. Tyler, Patrick Alan Danaher, and Alison Mander

    Educational Experiences of Hidden Homeless Teenagers Living Doubled-Up
    Ronald E. Hallett