ADRIAN -- Beth McCullough, homeless education liaison for Adrian Public Schools and the homeless education coordinator for Lenawee County, is to receive a Champions of Change award from the Obama Administration in Washington today.
"It was like a surprise party, with different people coming together to say that this amazing work needs to be recognized," explained Ms. McCullough, who did not know she had been nominated for the award until she received an email from the White House notifying her she had won. She will be honored with 12 other people from across the United States who also work to combat homelessness.
Two sets of numbers brought Ms. McCullough to the capital.
The first is a milestone that Ms. McCullough says the country never should have reached: one million homeless students in public schools nationwide in the 2010-11 school year.
The second is what Ms. McCullough has achieved with Roadmap to Graduation, the program she devised to aid Adrian's homeless high school students: 100 percent of the program's students have graduated, all have remained employed while in the program, and 87 percent have gone on to higher education in Roadmap's six-year history.
Roadmap, which Ms. McCullough believes caught the White House's eye, was inspired by foreign exchange programs. Families sign up to host a student for a year, but instead of youths from abroad, they offer homes for homeless students.
Barbara Duffield, the policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youths, described the program as "ground-breaking." She urged Ms. McCullough's Michigan colleagues to nominate her for the award.
School districts across the country have begun to copy it, she said, and that's evidence that Ms. McCullough "is one of the most innovative and successful school district liaisons in the country. And that's saying a lot, since there are a lot of them."
There are, to be precise, 16,025 liaisons nationwide -- one in each of the country's school districts, as stipulated by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which Congress reauthorized in 2002.
It was then that Ms. McCullough began serving as Adrian's liaison, with a mandate to look for, identify, and help homeless children in her district. In her decade on the job, Ms. McCullough said she has encountered homeless girls who missed school because they lacked feminine hygiene products, boys who were unable to play football because they could not afford to see a doctor for the necessary physical examination, and students sleeping in parks.
Each time, she marshalled resources to help the students. "Whatever it takes, whatever it takes, whatever it takes" is her philosophy.
That is the message she plans to take to Washington. Today's award ceremony provides the Champions with the opportunity to discuss issues and share their successes with the other winners, as well as with government officials.
The White House selects a set of champions each week, each time focusing on a different theme. Previous themes have included green energy, youth violence prevention, and fatherhood.
Jon Carson, director of public engagement at the White House, called the award "one of the best ways the White House has to highlight the incredible work of Americans across the country."
Homelessness is one of the most important themes the award has addressed, he said.
Ms. McCullough agreed, but argued homelessness is not what many think it is.
"It's about kids.
"It's not about the person living in a box in the woods anymore. That's not what homelessness looks like in America now. It's the families," she said.
Contact Jessica Shor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6516.