A Safe Place To Land: McKinney-Vento at Bingham

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Photo by Sophia Warnas

A line of snacks offered for students in Heather Smith’s office.

What is McKinney-Vento? The name may sound odd for those who have never heard of it, but it is a program devoted to helping every Bingham High School student succeed. Federally, it is a legislative act to fund homeless assistance programs, and through school representatives, it strives to support equal education for homeless or at-risk students. The McKinney-Vento representative at Bingham is Heather Smith, who has created a safe, judgment-free sanctuary for all students. Whether students’ need snacks, hygiene products, or educational support, they are welcome in her office. 

“Homelessness” is a broad term that refers to many different living situations. This description includes individuals and families living with other households, students who had to leave their homes, or anyone without access to a consistent place of residence. No two circumstances are the same, and Smith works with every student assisted by McKinney-Vento to discover what they need. 

In addition to managing students’ federal assistance, Heather Smith has extended support to any Bingham student in need of help, even if they do not technically qualify for the McKinney-Vento services. Struggling students are often overlooked if they do not check the McKinney-Vento box on paperwork. Smith recognizes that high school is challenging, and focusing can be especially difficult for students if they are hungry, thirsty, or tired. Smith offers a safe place to come, talk, and know someone cares for them. 

“Mainly, my job is to make sure the students at Bingham have what they need… It could be temporary. It could be long-term. I will help them. I want them to know it is a safe space. I don’t ask questions. I don’t care what your sexuality is. I don’t care what clothes you wear. I don’t care what color your hair is. Just come. It is a safe space,” says Smith. 

Donations from many generous charitable organizations maintain the Bingham McKinney-Vento program. Special thanks go to Bingham’s own PTSA, the Jordan Education Foundation, and businesses such as Maverick, and Defy Gymnastics. They donate a range of items, including meals, hygiene items, and clothing. Potential donors can contact Heather Smith through her email, [email protected] Smith distributes surplus donations among other McKinney-Vento representatives at local schools. 

Heather Smith’s excellent work is only possible with help from Bingham students. She says, “You are the eyes and ears of the school. There is help for your fellow students, but only if we know about it.” If a student is nervous about meeting with Smith, they can slide an anonymous note under her door or find a friend to accompany them. She can only help if she is aware of the students’ needs. 

The McKinney-Vento program is doing remarkable work at Bingham and across the country. Their mission, supported by Heather Smith, is to make sure every student has equal access to a successful education. “I just want every kid in the school to feel loved, and if there is any way I can help with that, I’ll do it,” says Smith. If you or someone you know would like to visit Heather Smith, her office is located in the Bingham attendance office, and she would love to say hello.