Word on the Street Issue 17, December 2021

Interfaith Sanctuary’s new education program is up and running, bringing our families support and community as they navigate the school year. The program is a safe space for students of all ages – from toddlers to young adults, in order to get them access to the resources and support they need to thrive in the classroom.

“When I came in, my goal was to create community and meeting the kids and families where they are is a part of that,” said Education Director Leah Clark. “I have a pretty strong belief in education where we emphasize strengths, where education is individualized and we see these students and parents as deserving of success. I want to give them the tools to help them feel successful and to let them know that they’re enough.”

On any given day, Clark, who operates the program at the hotel shelter where Interfaith’s family program is housed, does everything from making sure kids have the resources they need to get to school, to organizing classes and workshops, to helping older kids that have fallen behind get their GEDs. She might sit down with a family and talk with them about what possibilities they envision for their kids in the future. Sometimes she simply listens and encourages both students and parents to keep going. It’s a trauma-informed approach – meeting families where they’re at and offering a scaffolding to help them navigate the present.

For the younger kids in the program, the classroom is a chance to be creative and play. This fall, The Cabin taught a writing class once a week. Each Friday, students can participate in a reading night. Idaho Out of School Network helped organize STEM days during Thanksgiving break when kids were out of school, and similar activities are being planned for the rest of the year. Sometimes the program will take field trips to the park to make sure the kids are getting time outside.

Currently, Clark is working with the Idaho Department of Labor to help several teenagers in the program get their GEDs. “I tell them, ‘Let’s work on this so that when you leave here, you have this in place and have the ability to look for work, or do job training, or get your associate’s degree and go to college,’” she said. 

There are no requirements to participate. The door is simply open. Families are encouraged to drop by and the classroom is a place where the students know they’re welcome. “Allowing kids to have space to have hopes and dreams is really, really important. I’m saying OK, if this is your hope and dream, let’s build the staircase to get you there. I’ll work as hard as you work to build your staircase. You bring your nails, I’ll bring the hammer.”

“I ask questions like, ‘What interests you? What would it look like if…?’ The goal is to help them dive deeper and ask questions at the