Social Workers Help Students Find Stability; Focus on School

Adriana White says the help she and her family received from Duncanville ISD social worker Rhonda Cole changed her life.

Originally from Lake Charles, Louisiana, Ms. White and her children experienced the devastation of Hurricane Laura in August of 2020. The hurricane wiped out their home and they were forced to relocate. When the White family moved to Duncanville and enrolled in the district, they found themselves homeless and missing their family and friends back home. 

Ms. Cole, one of Duncanville ISD’s newly-hired social workers, was ready to help get them on their feet.

“My son had emotional issues because of the move,” Ms. White said. “With Ms. Cole’s help, I’ve seen a change in him at home. His love for math came back, and he’s more focused in school.”

Ms. Cole also connected Ms. White to a local church that provided the family with furniture and holiday gifts as they settled into a home.

In the past two school years, Duncanville ISD has launched an initiative to better meet the needs of students and their families. In 2019, Duncanville ISD added staff to help students with their social and emotional issues. The district hired four new support counselors to focus on students who are having trouble in the classroom academically or behaviorally. 

This school year, two licensed social workers, Shanice Fuller and Rhonda Cole, joined the counseling team to proactively connect students and families with resources based on their circumstances. Director of Counseling Dana Harper said family circumstances can interfere with the student’s ability to focus in the classroom or even attend school. Mrs. Harper and her team keep the district motto - “Writing Success Stories, One Student at a Time” - at the forefront of their work.

“Unless [students] can access their education, they cannot write their success story,” Mrs. Harper said.

Ms. Fuller and Ms. Cole are able to identify students who may be homeless, in foster care or are pregnant based on the student’s district records. That’s when the real work starts, beginning with contacting the family and working with them to stabilize their situation. So far this school year, they have made 890 contacts with students who needed the help. 

Another resource the school social workers are developing is the Panther Pantry. It’s a place where students can access clothing and other items for immediate need. The pantry came from humble beginnings at Duncanville High School, only offering limited supplies, but now it has expanded to an entire portable at Merrifield Elementary School. Following the recent winter weather event, the pantry has been used daily by students. The counseling department has an Amazon wishlist for those who wish to donate.

Mrs. Harper said all of the counseling resources that are available to students and families are part of providing equity to all students so they can do well in the classroom. 

“We’ve been able to fill the gaps and provide resources the students need to access school,” Mrs. Harper said.