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Hogan Preparatory Academy social worker an ally for students experiencing homelessness

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Posted at 6:00 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 23:26:11-04

Editor's note: This is Part Two of a two-part story.

Arthur Seabury knows what his students experiencing homelessness are going through because, at one time, he was that student.

Growing up in Sedalia, he lived in a home that had no running water and no indoor plumbing.

When living conditions became too bad, he'd be forced to stay with grandparents, bouncing from home to home.

Now, as a social worker at Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, Seabury takes great pains to protect students' privacy. That includes keeping a room stocked with clean clothes and shoes.

"I have uniforms and all sizes because our students sometimes have to leave in the middle of the night, and they come to school without uniforms," he said.

Or, if their uniforms are dirty, he washes them at school, using a washer and dryer he had installed in the basement specifically for that purpose.

"Most of them carry their dirty clothes in their backpacks and then tell me I need to wash their clothes," Seabury said. "By the end of the day we'll have them washed dried folded and put back in their backpacks."

Hogan Preparatory Academy has the highest rate of homelessness of any school district in the metro. Out of more than 1,000 students, 23.9% (or 244 students) are considered to be experiencing homelessness.

But school officials believe the numbers are actually much higher, noting there's a stigma to homelessness that can prohibit some families from fully disclosing their situation – sometimes for fear that their children will be removed from their care.

So for nearly 20 years at Hogan Prep, Seabury has focused on providing not just counseling, but the little things that can make students' lives easier. Sometimes, that's boxing up and bringing food to students and their families.

Other times, it's providing basic hygiene items,

"Sometimes something as simple as having a comb and a brush in the morning might make that kids day," he said, showing off the stocked shelves in his office, filled with everything from hair gel to deodorant.

"So, they come to school and they don’t wanna be left out or ridiculed so they come to my office and they get products that they need."

That's something he was able to offer sisters Janay and Chavon Smith.

"Mr. Seabury used to always give us soap and stuff, fun hair products for our kind of hair, because we couldn’t really get stuff like this," elder sister Janay Smith said.

Growing up, their mother struggled with substance abuse, which often meant the sisters and their siblings stayed with other family members or spent time in foster care, before their mother died of an overdose.

During that time, Seabury was there.

"He’s very supportive," Chavon Smith said with a smile. "He’s been there for me, I don’t know how many times."

"Yes, all the time, I love him so much," Janay Smith said. "He helped out so much, and was there if I needed someone to talk to, and resources or anything that I needed."

A lifestyle of support

41 Action News went back to Sedalia with Seabury, who showed crews his old neighborhood. Although his house is no longer there, he can still picture that part of town.

"Across that tree line were two houses that were prostitution houses back here on this line," he said, pointing toward a row of trees.

"There was a club called the Sportsmens club, it was a prostitution gambling house," he said, pointing to the other side of where his house once sat.

While he said the streets promised dangers for a young man back then, he recalled how a neighboring jazz musician instead got him hooked on music.

"When they'd rehearse, when they would take a break, he put me on the drums and showed me how to do it," Seabury said.

That same neighbor told the band director at the high school to keep an eye out for Seabury, and it worked.

Shortly after starting school, Seabury was recruited into the band.

"He made me his drum major my first year here, marching down, strutting. Man it was incredible!" he said, demonstrating marching up and down the field.

From there, he became involved with the speech team and theater. It was on the stage, as a performer, he found the power to let his past and his troubles go.

"I could lose myself when I was here and working in theater and creating plays," Seabury said, "and doing those things I wasn’t that kid that had problems or might have been hungry. I wasn't thinking about that."

Empowered by his involvement in the arts, he went on to be class president and become the first person in his family to attend college.

And while he still plays music to this day, he found his real calling is helping students, just as caring adults looked out for him during his early years.

"It’s been a blessing to have had a lifestyle that can support understanding the kids that are considered homeless," he said.

Whether he's coaching students on the school's speech team or encouraging them to go to college, he's planting seeds of hope, much like the school garden he has students plant and tend each year.

"These are rows of collard greens, they look like they’re dying. But, as we water them they’ll get stronger and grow," he explained to a group of middle school students.

In the end, these are life lessons he hopes will be music to the ears of students who need a little extra encouragement.

Because of his work, specifically with students experiencing homelessness, he's been recognized with multiple awards, including the Outstanding Educator Award from the Charter School Association of Missouri. As part of that, he received a $10,000 prize. But, in true Arthur Seabury fashion, he gave much of that money back to his many students in need.