Pinkston High School staff and alumni literally rolled out the red carpet when seniors returned to campus on Monday.
Most of the high school’s students have been attending school virtually this year. On-campus attendance averages about 100 students daily, and most of those are seventh- and eighth-graders, says Anthony McGee, Pinkston community liaison.
The school year ends June 18, and two in five Dallas ISD seniors are in danger of not graduating. That sparked a district-wide “Finish Strong” effort to encourage seniors to return to campus where staff can work with them face-to-face to prepare them for graduation.
Several Pinkston alumni showed up Monday with pep rally signs and black and gold pom poms, cheering on the seniors as they walked into the school. Pinkston cheerleaders danced to tunes from K104 radio, while DJ Cat Daddy called out “Seniors 2021 — finish strong!” Most students giggled or ducked their heads in embarrassment at the display of attention, but took the bottles of hand sanitizer and school supplies alumni handed them on their way in.
Class of ’73 alumnus George Castro organized the welcome at the request of assistant principal Connie Westbrook.
“We usually do this in the fall on the first day of school, but we weren’t able to this year because of COVID,” says Castro.
Pinkston alumni also raised funds to cover every senior’s $100 fee, which covers prom, field day, caps, gowns and diploma covers. The district and campuses are working on COVID-safe measures in order to allow seniors to experience these high school traditions in person.
The seniors entered the auditorium and spaced themselves among the rows as Principal Marlon Brooks addressed them.
“We haven’t come together like this since March 13, 2020,” Brooks told them. “The idea is to make sure we take care of business and get you to June 19, 2021.”
Westbrook described it as a “senior check-up” where staff would be assessing each student “to make sure you’re going to get across the stage.”
“The goal is for you to come all five days” a week, Westbrook told the seniors. “You may tell us, ‘I’m working, I’m babysitting,’ but we’re going to have those conversations with you.”
District data shows that Pinkston has 182 enrolled seniors, but only 75 or so were sitting in the auditorium Monday morning. Seniors were invited, not required, to return to campus.
Most Pinkston students opted for virtual school in 2020-21. A Dallas Free Press open records request shows that 412 Pinkston students — roughly one-third of the school’s total enrollment — have missed multiple days or weeks this year, or simply can’t be found. A separate Dallas ISD “Operation Comeback” effort is searching for these students and trying to reengage them.
McGee says Pinkston normally averages about a million absences a year. In 2020-21, however, it hit the million mark within the first three weeks of school.
“Some ZIP codes can handle this pandemic,” McGee says. “It just devastated us. Our kids can’t function this way.”