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Kids share foreclosure woes

Posted: October 7, 2009 10:40 p.m.
Updated: October 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Last month, Rodrigo Mendoza and his family lost their Newhall home to foreclosure, forcing a temporary move to Agua Dulce.

That move meant leaving Newhall School District's attendance boundaries. So Mendoza's two kids, a first-grader and a fifth-grader, had to leave their friends behind at Wiley Canyon Elementary School.

While out of school and trying to move back to Newhall, Mendoza said he watched his 6-year-old daughter play by herself while others were in school.

"It was just depressing," he said.

He was recently able to move back into the school's boundaries. But since the family's initial move, new kids had arrived and filled the seats, forcing Mendoza to take each of his children to different elementary schools every morning.

Throughout the process, Mendoza has watched his 11-year-old daughter lose the friends she has had to leave behind.

"She doesn't see them anymore," he said, adding, "I'm pretty sure she feels lonely."

Problems affect kids
Local support agencies are seeing situations like the Mendoza family's throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

"We're definitely seeing that trend and the economics is really affecting a lot of people," said Larry Schallert, director of adult education and outreach services for the Child and Family Center.

Financial struggles often mean families lose their homes, Schallert said.

"They are really scrambling to find a solution," he said.

Parents aren't the only ones who struggle.

"Moving the kids out of their school is often a disaster and moving them out of their district is worse," he said.

Linda Malerba, director of Lutheran Social Services in Canyon Country, said switching schools means losing friends, getting new teachers and dropping activities that kids and families were involved in at school.

For any family that is facing financial strains, Schallert recommends parents keep an eye on their kids and watch for an increase in feeling insecure or anxious.

"Parents tend to get so stressed out and they forget that the kids are having all these sorts of feelings," he said.

Feeling helpless
In Mendoza's case, even after he moved to a mobile home park within Wiley Canyon Elementary School's boundaries, his kids' enrollment problems didn't end.

The school's fifth-grade class was full and Mendoza was only able to enroll his first-grader at Wiley Canyon. He was forced to place his fifth-grade daughter at Stevenson Ranch Elementary School, which Mendoza said has put a strain on him because of the commute.

"We wanted to keep the kids in the same school," Mendoza said.

The decision is part of the district's board policy, which has been in effect for years.

"Due to housing patterns and student ages, we have surplus seats at some sites but no seats at others," the policy reads. "We divert students to any site in the district with seats for a particular grade level. It would be fiscally irresponsible if we did not maximize available seats, wherever they might be, before asking the taxpayers to support new schools or hire excess teachers."

Superintendent Marc Winger said a waiting list is created for students who want to return to their former school and it is likely that Mendoza's older daughter will be able to attend Wiley Canyon in the future.

"It's obvious he had a connection with the school," Winger said. "I totally understand that. I just can't accommodate that."

While the number of diverted students has not changed significantly, Winger said the district is finding that new sites like Wiley Canyon are running into diversion situations.

He attributes it to budget cuts, which has forced the school district to tighten staffing.

For fifth-grade classes, the maximum number is 30 students to a class.

"We just couldn't take another kid," he said. "We can't start another classroom."

Meanwhile, Mendoza worries for his family.

"I felt that I was helpless," he said, "because I couldn't have my kids' lives be normal."


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