AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– It’s a concern for school boards in greater Augusta, and around the country: finding solutions for the growing homeless student population.

According to The Salvation Army, the Center of Hope shelter on Greene St. houses roughly 17 children a night… eight of whom are school-aged.

And someone who has seen what it’s like for homeless children in the classroom is with me today. Susan Beckham Zurenda’s new book, The Girl From the Red Rose Motel, was inspired from situations she observed in her 30-year teaching career.

“Correct. My last ten years of teaching were at Spartanburg High School. And I don’t know really
what the right word to use is, but I think of it as having had a kind of “bipolar” teaching life because I taught four classes of the brightest, probably most affluent and where education was valued the most, AP classes, 12th Grade AP English. And then I had a fifth class called Reading Strategies, and those were the kids whose reading and writing levels were so far behind they could not pass the exit exam to graduate in South Carolina. I was charged with responsibility of doing what we could do to get their levels up high enough to pass the exit exam.”

Zurenda describes many situations in the book that a lot of readers might simply take for granted, like transportation.

“Right. And that is very true that, often, the young people who live in motels, they do have separate bus routes. And nobody rides on those buses but them.”

Zurenda says two incidents in the novel are based on real incidents from her teaching life.

“One is the chapter early on that catapults the plot into action when Sterling Lovell, who is an amalgam of eight boys I taught one year in AP English. They call themselves The Crazy Eight. I referred to them as the Hateful Eightful! They had banded together in middle school and had been terrorizing their classrooms ever since. Nobody had ever brought them to task, I think because they were so smart. And they were going to go to great schools, and their parents were influential. And one day three of those in my class really usurped the lesson, and I sent them to in-school suspension. So “Sterling” was the first character who emerged, and I wanted to see how he might come to have a new map of the world in his head and call on the empathy, which is inside of him and introduced him to “Hazel,” who has been sent to ISS.”

Hundreds of thousands of children in our country are living in motels, and we to think that people who live in rundown motels might be drug addicts or prostitutes. But that’s not the whole picture at all.

“There are a lot of families that live in rundown motels. And there are all kinds of general reasons: poor credit, eviction, landlords don’t want to rent to people who have been evicted. Affordable housing is a tremendous thing. Job loss. It goes on and on and on.”

The Girl from the Red Rose Motel will help you feel an empathy that you might have not had before, and may make you question things that you see about young people walking on the streets.

You can buy the book here in Augusta at the Book Tavern on Broad Street, at Barnes and Noble, or any of the online booksellers.