About 7 percent of students in Boston Public Schools experience some form of homelessness or housing instability. For many, the 68 hours between leaving school on Friday and returning Monday morning can be very challenging. Weekends can create extra levels of anxiety and stress during an already chaotic moment in their lives.
We wanted to support Boston Public Schools' Homeless Education Resource Network as they built out a toolkit for principals to offer to students. We looked to models across the country — and also right across the river in Cambridge — for inspiration and best practices.
Our hypothesis? By trying multiple ways to get food for the bags, as well as different distribution channels, we expected to learn what would be most convenient for students and families. We would also find out what would be workable for schools to organize and support.
We helped the Edison K-8 School in Brighton launch the first version of the program in fall 2017:
- The pilot supported about 30 kindergartners.
- The food was bought via a state contract.
- Teachers volunteered to pack the bags on Friday mornings.
- The students' teacher discreetly placed the bags in students’ backpacks during recess.
We helped launch the second version of the prototype in summer 2018 as part of a summer fellowship project:
- We explored home deliveries run by school staff.
- We explored family pickups from the school, and family pickups from a local case management organization.
- We focused on supporting middle school students.
- The food was donated by the American Red Cross Food Pantry.
Results and lessons learned
In the first version of the program, we asked families for feedback on what they wanted to see in future versions of the Boost Bags. This allowed them to guide our food purchases. In the second prototype, families were able to pick up a Boost Bag from the school or the case management organization. We enabled them to choose which items to bring home for the weekend. Having options increased interest in the program and allowed families to customize their options.Bulk buying can enable principals to band together
Boston Public Schools makes a yearly, per-pupil investment in supports for students experiencing homelessness. Principals are able to decide how to spend these funds at their schools. By sharing ideas and discussing a common need for food access resources across schools, principals can bring their schools' dollars together. This allows them to collectively buy items for Boost Bags from competitively bid state contracts.
There is often a desire to design "one" program that will fit all scenarios. But, our two prototypes showed that we need to customize how we put the program in place. Context is incredibly important. For a kindergartener, seeing the teacher who delivers the Boost Bags walk down the hallway brings a smile and excitement to their day. For a middle schooler trying to navigate a bus ride (or two) and catching up with friends, carrying an extra 10-15 pounds of food for the weekend can be a dealbreaker.