One of the greatest indicators of a person’s success later in life is their educational attainment and academic performance. This is especially important in the formative years of a child’s development, and a large portion of this development occurs at home.
For a low-income family, the academic success of their children may not always be on the top of their mind. Making ends meet when you are living to paycheck-to-paycheck can be the primary focus of an adult in the home when rent is unaffordable, grocery prices are rising, and you must choose between keeping the lights on or buying medication for your sick child.
For a child, it may be difficult to focus on schoolwork when your family is struggling financially, or you do not have the space to study. A child may not have the time to dedicate to homework when they have to watch their younger siblings while their parent is working the night shift.
The most pressing issues related to the educational outcomes of students are overcrowding, frequently moving, and health hazards. Students’ academic progression and development can be seriously hindered by academic disturbances, which has dramatic implications for their futures.
One of the most significant impacts on a child’s academic achievement is overcrowding. This can include a lack of privacy, loud study environments, and sleep disturbances. These events can all contribute to a child’s educational performance and attainment. Children that live in overcrowded spaces have lower math and reading scores and are more likely to fall behind in school. Adolescents living in overcrowded housing are less likely to graduate high school than their peers in adequate housing.
According to the Center on Housing Policy, overcrowding may reduce parental responsiveness by creating social overload and withdrawal. This causes higher stress rates in children, which are associated with behavioral issues, poor physical health, and reduced cognitive development.
“The pandemic made us realize how important it is to have a place to study, which our current apartment doesn’t provide. Most of my children are students and not having a favorable environment to allow them to focus on schoolwork has been difficult and frustrating,” said Buddhi to Green Mountain Habitat, who is now a proud homeowner in Burlington.
His family of four was living in a two-bedroom apartment, and his two daughters were using the living room as their bedroom. His Habitat home has provided his family with security and stability, he said.
Another partner family has shared how unstable, unaffordable housing can impact her family’s education.
Lisa, a single mother of three, has seen first-hand the impact that being housing insecure can have on a family. “I’ve been moving my entire life. My brother and I once tallied that we’d gone to 11 different schools by the time we were out of high school,” Lisa shared.
With her Habitat home, Lisa shared that what she’s really looking forward to is she will not have to move anymore, and to help build generational wealth for her kids that having a home provides which will set them up for success in the future.
Moving has significant impacts on children in school, as it is associated with negative behaviors, including social problems, delinquency, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, which research has shown to be correlated with poor academic achievement. Moves during early school years can seriously impact reading performance, and these problems can intensify in later years, according to the Center on Housing Policy.
“We know that kids who are in safe and secure housing do better in school when they aren’t having to move to another school district due to affordable housing,” said David Mullin, CEO of Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity.
Students who frequently move also suffer from excessive absenteeism, disruptions of peer networks, interference with relationship development, and increased stress levels. According to the Urban Institute’s research on housing and education, school changes may demand the child adapt to a new curriculum and new teacher, and it may often require the child to make up schoolwork covered earlier in the year. Researchers also note that these students are at risk for “broken bonds” with teachers, which may reduce their ability to obtain critical assistance during transitionary periods.
In addition to moving and overcrowding, poor housing structures themselves can be damaging to a child’s education. For example, 39% of asthma diagnoses for children ages 6 or under could be prevented by removing environmental hazards in the home, such as dander, mildew, and mold. Children with allergies or asthma related to poor insulation and moisture in the home miss more days of school than students in newer homes or homes with better ventilation.
Another health risk to students in substandard housing is the risk of lead exposure. From 2011-2016, researchers found that 2.2% of children living in poverty had high levels of lead in their blood, compared with .6% of children above the poverty line. Although lead poisoning levels have been decreased over the past four decades, Black children continue to have higher blood lead levels than white children.
Lead can dramatically hinder academic performance and cognitive development. For young children with elevated blood lead levels, research has demonstrated that a one-unit decrease in average blood lead levels improved their math and reading scores by one-tenth and one-third of the average annual student gains, respectively.
A hand-up, not a hand-out
Every parent wants the best for their children. Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity partners with hardworking families to help them achieve their dreams of providing a stable home for their children. The stability provided by Habitat homes allows homeowners to minimize disruptions to their children’s education, which can help counteract the negative impact of lower-quality schools and limited community resources.
Ling, a single mother of two, enjoys the stability that her Green Mountain Habitat provides. “My oldest son loves his school and is happy that we will be in the same school district. And I will be able to look for the school bus from our new home,” she said.
A house is more than a structure. It provides a family with stability, safety, and independence. For the children in the family, it provides a place to grow and play. It provides a place to flourish and grow their mind in a secure environment. It provides our partner families with hope and a future.
“We offer a hand up, not a handout, to families in need of affordable housing,” said Mullin.
Join us on our journey to bettering the lives of families and their children in Northwestern Vermont. The development of children begins at home, so it is important for them to have a
To learn more about the impacts of homeownership on educational outcomes, read the full evidence brief from Habitat for Humanity International.