Homeless Education Program helps students overcome challenges

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For 18 years, Mark Pierce has networked with community organizations, solicited donations, and counseled with homeless students to encourage them to stay in school. His mission is to get these students the help they need to complete high school. Pierce manages the Homeless Education Program that equips homeless students with uniforms, school supplies, food, bus passes, and other resources that can make the difference between graduating and dropping out.

“It’s never the kids’ fault,” said Pierce. “They never wanted this or chose this for themselves, and we should always try to give students the best that we can. If they are struggling to get to school, we should make it easier for them to get there because that’s where we want them to be,” he said.

One of the challenges the program faces is identifying students who can benefit from the services. Many don’t self-identify for fear of losing a temporary home or being forced into foster care by Child Protective Services.

Pierce said homeless students are an overlooked population that faces challenges their peers may never know about. It’s often advocates within schools, such as community liaisons, counselors and the staff of programs like Communities in Schools that identify and refer students.

Recently created drop-in centers, most housed on high school campuses, are the focal points for distribution of services. Through partnerships with organizations such as Promise House, Church of the Incarnation, and North Texas Food Bank, the centers are equipped to supply students with much-needed resources. The first drop-in center opened two years ago at North Dallas High School. Today, in response to the need, centers exist at five additional schools — L. G. Pinkston and James Madison high schools, Alex Spence Middle School and the J.L. Patton and Barbara Manns education centers. A new drop-in center will open this year at Samuell High School.

Pierce believes that the Homeless Education Program can alleviate some of the pressure that plagues students who lack permanent homes, and his goal is to create a drop-in center at every Dallas ISD high school. “There are real basic survival barriers going on in their lives that make it difficult for them to be successful in school, and we can help them eliminate those barriers.”

For more information about the program or to refer a student, call 972-749-5789.

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