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Concerns Of A Homeless Student: Math, Graduation, Clean Clothes

KUOW Photo/Chris Otey

Growing up, Kyra MacFarlane survived on food banks and pawning items for a quick buck with her father and brothers. MacFarlane is one of 27,000 homeless students in Washington state.

Without permanent housing, MacFarlane has struggled with the basics, like hygiene.

“It was having piles of unclean clothes for months that had never gotten the chance to be washed because we had no money to wash them,” MacFarlane said. “I was wearing these clothes that we kind of just picked and were like, ‘Well does this smell OK? Is it good enough?’”

Sometimes things got so bad the family didn’t even have toilet paper.

"And that’s the point where I just started feeling disgusting,” MacFarlane said. “I just started feeling this awful jealousy toward everyone who was clean.”

MacFarlane’s father, Michael MacFarlane, lost his job at a metal mill when Kyra MacFarlane was young. Michael MacFarlane said he was not able to get another job for nearly a decade because of health conditions, including a heart condition and diabetes.

As a result, Kyra MacFarlane has moved from house to motel and back dozens of times.

Losing her home became an almost annual routine in her life starting when she was five years old. Her family has lived all over the Seattle area: South Park, Judkins Park, Bothell, Everett, Bellevue, Greenwood, Lake City and Georgetown.

One day in high school, her father called. Her family had to leave the building where they lived because it was being torn down to make way for a Salvation Army battered women’s shelter.

“That phone call really broke me, completely,” she said. “I ended up having a breakdown in the middle of school because it happened again.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Kyra MacFarlane struggles in math because she's moved so many times.", "fid": "8180", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201401/KyraAbove.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo / Chris Otey"}]]The constant moving has led to problems in school, especially math. “I wasn’t able to learn all of my multiplications. I could tell you truthfully that I probably only know it up to fives, and that hurts,” she said.

There were other problems at school as well. During her freshman year, one of her teachers said, “I purposely sat you next to the smartest kid in all of my classes. The least you could have done was cheat off of his papers.” That comment obliterated her confidence. She felt like there was no one she could turn to for help.

Kyra MacFarlane failed her math classes but still passed freshman year. The next year all of her classes started to take a drastic turn downward and she failed more classes, preventing her from graduating on time.

After her house was torn down to make way for the shelter, Kyra MacFarlane found a place to stay with a friend. Still, she’d missed a lot of classes and had all but given up on school. She thought of dropping out and getting a GED or quitting altogether.

Then she learned about Middle College High School, a last chance for students like her. She has attended for several months now, and said she feels more at home there than at any other school because she is with other students who face similar challenges.

School is also improving for her. “I really enjoy my math class now,” Kyra MacFarlane said. “I’m pretty excited that I’m learning, and that I can learn.” 

Her math teacher, Marilyn Filley, has noticed a big change in her student.

“Once she realized that math in this class is about a personal program where you do exactly what you need at your level, she got more comfortable," Filley said. "And not only can she learn math but she could learn anything.”

Kyra MacFarlane’s dad recently found a job and moved into permanent housing. As for Kyra MacFarlane, she has gained the confidence to solve the problems she faces every day. “I think my biggest thing I hope to accomplish is graduating from high school this year,” she said. “And then, moving on.”

RadioActive is KUOW's program for high school students. This story was produced in RadioActive’s Fall Workshop in partnership with Neighborhood House - High Point CenterListen toRadioActivestories, subscribe to the RadioActivepodcast and stay in touch on Facebook.