2019 Paving the Way to Educational Success Awards

During 2019 Paving the Way to Educational Success Conference, four individuals who make a difference in the lives of students experiencing homelessness or who are in foster care, were honored as 2019 Advocates.

Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Advocates


Chichester School District, accepting the award for the school district is Tina Onassis, homeless and foster care liaison.

Chichester School District is incredibly supportive of its student population and goes above and beyond to accommodate the needs of homeless and foster students. Without the support of the transportation department, the social workers, principals, guidance counselors, teachers, administration and community, the district would not be as successful as they are in supporting these children and families in need. Every person in the District plays an integral role in building these families up so that their students can achieve academic and social success during this incredibly difficult time in their lives. Every school has a pantry, including the administrative office. When the liaison meets with a family the first time, she takes useful items and brings the school district social worker along to offer additional supports to the family. Identified students take backpacks home on the weekend filled with food. Pantries also include clothing, including a prom section in the high school pantry. The pantries are sustained by the generous donations of school district personnel, from top administration on down. The district’s transportation department has traveled as far as the state of Delaware to transport homeless students who were located in a hotel. The liaison has provided gift cards so that the parent could accompany her elementary school children to and from school until long-term transportation could be arranged. The transportation department works cooperatively with surrounding districts’ transportation departments to share transportation responsibilities when needed. The district’s Title 1 coordinator paid for laptop fees for homeless and foster high school students; and provided sneakers and athletic wear so the students could participate in gym. The district’s Food Services Department ensures that the children are provided with breakfast and lunch, and also assisted in developing the weekend food backpack program. Nominated by Michelle Connor, ECYEH Region 8 Coordinator.

Michelle Siruc, Homeless Liaison and Confidential Secretary for Office of Federal Programs, Professional Development and Curriculum, Mifflin County School District

Michelle Siruc has made the liaison role seem like it is her full-time position. McKinney-Vento training from the regional office occurs annually, and she provides internal training during staff meetings. She always makes sure that students who meet the definition are being counted and receiving the services they need. She doesn’t hesitate to reach out to the office if she has a question or concern. Michelle has coordinated very successful Homeless Education Awareness Week activities for the past two years with staff dress down days to raise funds to support students in need. She collected cleaning supplies and other items from students and staff to distribute to a local domestic violence shelter. She requested that students and staff bring in canned goods, hygiene products, and other items to stock a pantry for students. Her efforts caught the attention of the local media and several articles were written, which resulted in members of the greater community reaching out and providing monetary donations of around $8,000. She made sure that the district homeless policy was up to date with the ESSA changes, created a parent brochure, and updated the district’s webpage with McKinney-Vento information for students, families, and staff. She made sure that the ECYEH posters were distributed and displayed. She has taken her role as liaison to a new level, creating positive ripples across Region 3. Nominated by Missy Gosnell, Region 3 Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care Regional Coordinator.

Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care in Pennsylvania Advocates


Colleen Groger, Program Specialist, Crawford County Human Services

Colleen Groger is the Children and Youth Services Educational Liaison Point of Contact and a Program Specialist for Crawford County Human Services. Colleen is always a strong advocate for the children she serves and effectively coordinates Best Interest Determination Meetings in order to have discussions with all parties involved whenever a student changes their placement. The meetings she arranges often go beyond required participants to include therapists and other relevant persons who can speak to the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of the students. Colleen keeps the child at the center of all discussions, seeks information and technical assistance from the Regional Foster Care Office, and fosters positive relationships with the districts not only in Crawford County but also in neighboring counties. Colleen received a special affirmation of support to receive this award from the Superintendent of Jamestown Area School District, Tracey Riser, who says that Colleen strives to ensure that students receive the most appropriate education and be provided with the opportunity to succeed. Colleen is proactive and stays up to date on the law and relevant changes that impact foster students, and has sought out local contacts in the Crawford County court system, including judges, to discuss the implementation of Rule 1148 on the BID process. Colleen is a model for effective collaboration and is always quick to reach out to others with new information, guidance, and support to ensure that the needs of the children in Crawford County are met. Nominated by Wendy Kinnear, Region 5 Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness and Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care Regional Coordinator.

The Honorable Michael Sholley, 17th Judicial District and Dependency Judge, Union and Snyder Counties

Judge Sholley deserves to be recognized as a 2019 Advocate for the educational stability he ensures for youth in foster care placement. Stability and normalcy for youth in care is something that Judge Sholley orders, reviews, and demands consistently in his courtroom in the Dependency Courts in Union and Snyder Counties. Judge Sholley works vigorously to ensure that the best interest of youth is always met by ensuring that youth in foster care are transported to their school districts of origin and remain in their school extracurricular activities whenever possible – thus allowing them to remain connected to school supports, their peers, and their community. To accomplish this, Judge Sholley has even coordinated with agency caseworkers to transport youth to school until long-term transportation arrangements are made in collaboration with school districts. Judge Sholley also co-chairs a Congregate Care Workgroup, in which one of the charges is to reduce or eliminate the use of congregate care for youth in foster care. However, Judge Sholley works to ensure that these youth residing in congregate care placements receive the same educational rights as other youth placed in other foster care settings. Judge Sholley also was instrumental in both Union and Snyder Counties participating in the Family Engagement Initiative, which has resulted in dramatic shifts in foster care utilization across both Counties. The Family Engagement Initiative promotes family voice and family choice and has increased the use of kin resource parent foster care by 75% in the past 18 months. In short, Judge Sholley deserves to be honored as a 2019 Advocate for the educational stability of youth in foster care because he consistently and unapologetically goes above and beyond to ensure that foster youth are well supported in their education, which assists them immeasurably by reducing the trauma imparted by the necessity of being placed into the foster care system. Nominated by Jennifer Napp Evans, Snyder County Children and Youth Service Administrator.