“You want to walk away from the workday knowing that you did a little bit more, and that’s what counts in the long run,” said Pedro Trujillo, urban specialist at L.G. Pinkston High School. “I talk to them after they are referred to me, and I find out what is going on in their lives. Some students don’t have meals or clothes, and that can cause them distress. I also ask them if they would like to receive counseling.”
Trujillo describes his job as an advocate for students, both inside the school and in the community. “Not only do you have to network and get out in the community to get resources for the students, you also have to connect with the students and help them in their areas of need,” he said.
Created two years ago, the urban specialist position exists at Pinkston, James Madison, Lincoln and South Oak Cliff high schools, all schools in the Imagine 2020 Strategic Feeder Pattern Initiative. The specialists’ goal is to intervene before a student makes a decision to drop out, helping him or her to understand that there are resources and people who can provide support. They also reach out to the community to encourage students who have dropped out to return to school.
Trujillo recognizes that his line of work is not one in which you receive instant gratification. “I don’t see the results now, but four years from now, when I see them walking across the stage to get their diplomas, and they say thank you, that’s when you know you’ve helped them,” he said. “That you’ve made a difference in their lives.”
Besides serving as an advocate and encouraging students to stay in school, Trujillo also coordinates Pinkston’s Drop-In Center, a one-stop shop that helps homeless students with essentials like clothes, food and hygiene items.
Mark Pierce, who oversees the district’s Homeless Education Program, piloted the first Drop-In Center at North Dallas High School, later extending it to John Leslie Patton, James Madison and Pinkston high schools. He said the urban specialists play a major role in providing services to homeless students. “Although no student is turned away, the Drop-In Centers help homeless students get the things that they need to improve their lives,” said Pierce.
The Drop-In Centers are able to provide help to students thanks to partnerships in the community, with agencies such as Promise House, North Texas Food Bank and the Church of the Incarnation, among others. Working together, Pierce said he and Trujillo are able to help an often overlooked population – homeless teenagers. “At first, teens didn’t want to self-identify themselves as homeless, but the more we extended the services to them, the more they came forward to receive the services,” said Pierce.