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Helping kids get back on track

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 1/17/2013, 1:12 p.m.

"Our relationship evolved because he saw me as someone who was committed to helping him. He was not in the right academic environment, where someone was telling him that college was possible. I saw him recently on what was going to be his first day of school. He wants to improve his situation. He realizes that education is step one not only for himself, but for his family," said Dufresne.

What does he see as a key component for greater success with this challenging problem? "I think there needs to be a more individualized approach. More time should be spent on developing relationships between school staff and the students that they are working with. Providing more behavioral and emotional support is tied to their education." This type of work is a natural fit for Dufresne, who worked at a clinic in his last year of law school where he did the same type of work. It was great training.

As for turning down the perks of corporate law to help troubled kids stay in school, he says, "I was sitting on a panel and a question came up from a student who said, 'I have all these loans and I'm interested in working for criminal defense.' If you do what you're passionate about, you'll get good at it and your earning potential will go up," he said.

"I'm doing something that I love. I'm not concerned with what I'm earning, but with how many people I am able to help. I'm in a good place. I'm lucky," he concluded.

In addition to his work with Advocates for Children of New York, Dufresne is also a member of Dignity in Schools NY, a citywide coalition of parents, student advocates, educators, grassroots groups and lawyers working to improve the learning environment and reduce school push-out.