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LAYTON — August marks the return of students to school from all over the state, and while many will be focusing on academics and extracurricular activities, a return to the classroom can also bring other issues into focus.
For over 1,300 students in the Davis School District, including 300 high schoolers, that issue is homelessness and housing insecurity.
Fortunately, the northern Utah district is taking steps to address this crisis. On Thursday the district opened the Northridge High School Teen Resource Center, the second in the district along with one already established at Clearfield High School.
"The impetus behind these centers was to close the gap, to remove barriers to students so that they can be academically and socially successful in school so that we prepare them for the next endeavor in post-secondary (education) or in a work situation," said Davis Education Foundation Executive Director Jodi Lunt.
The center will provide at-risk students in need, including those experiencing homelessness, with a safe place to shower, launder clothing, access basic essentials, eat and work one-on-one with counselors.
It also includes a full community pantry where students and families can access food.
Additionally, it was built inside Northridge High School in a repurposed space that will be staffed by trained social workers and counselors who are "highly qualified individuals who can not only provide resources, but they can assist in the social and the academic and other needs that they may have," Lunt said.
Being inside the high school allows students to access services without having to go to another facility or take time away from their academic schedules, with an expectation of serving around 50 students a day.
Funding for the center was made possible through donations from the Huntsman Family Foundation, Larry H. Miller and Gail Miller Family Foundation, Lofthouse Foundation, M Squared Inc. and Watson Family Foundation, along with many other community donors.
The center was designed by VCBO Architecture and built by Hogan Construction.
The support from these corporate and individual donors was essential in providing these resources for at-risk students, Lunt said.
"This work only goes forward because our community believes in the future of our children — all children," Lunt said. "The dollars to raise and to build these (centers) have all been contributed by individual foundations, families, individuals (and) corporations who have all provided the funding."
Four other teen centers are under construction throughout the Davis School District, with funds currently being raised for two additional centers.
Lunt said later this fall, the district will be breaking ground on an 8,000-square-foot, 16-bed teen resource center that will offer overnight and long-term residence and resource opportunities for students experiencing homelessness.
"We are earnestly working and that is a top priority to provide that resource," Lunt said. "It is one more gap that we have."