by Tiquan Weeks
Social workers serve a critical purpose in a school. It’s their job to assist students, parents and staff to remove barriers that prevent students from learning. It’s the social worker’s job to see kids they need assistance academically and emotionally.
Students can go talk to a social worker if they’re being bullied, abused or going through any challenge for which they need advice. Parents can come to to a social worker if they are going through hard times and can’t afford to buy food or clothes for their child. Social workers can help connect families to the right services. The school staff may ask the social worker to find students who may not be on track to graduate. It’s their job to make sure they inform the student about what they need to do.
I interviewed our school’s social worker, Ms. Noel, about the many benefits her work brings to our school:
What are some of the things you help students with?
Sometimes I help the students with FAFSA applications,. I help them register for homeless services programs, and I also give them information about the college they want to go to. I often meet with them about their grades to keep them on track.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Keep in mind that the students are dealing with things emotionally, so I do a lot of counseling. Also, if they are being abused at home or school in any way, we address that. Sometimes, the most difficult part is having to call the abuse hotline. I don’t like having to do that, but it’s a requirement for all Broward County personnel if abuse is suspected. This is true for everybody working for the school, from the bus drivers to the cleaning people to security. If you have a kid telling you that they are being abused, or you see any sign of abuse, you’ve got to call it in.
What do you most hope to accomplish as social worker?
My biggest goal is to make a difference, even if I make a difference in just one kid’s life. I hope it’s more than one, of course, but my goal every day I come to school is to find one child I help in some way.
What is the most important aspect of managing people’s feelings?
Confidentiality – that’s a big word for us. Confidentiality is making sure that when a student tells me something, or when a client tells me something, I don’t discuss it with anybody else. For example, if a student comes in here and talks about challenges in their life, I can’t tell a parent. If a student comes in here and tells me she’s pregnant, I can’t call a parent and tell them that their child is pregnant. If the student feels confident enough, we can role-play. I can pretend to be her mom and she could tell me what is going on, because I am a mom, so I could help her find ways to tell her mom. This is true even when it comes to things like grades. I can’t discuss your grades with anyone else as a social worker. We have something called a code of ethics that details how you treat your clients with dignity, respect, and allow the client to decide what they want to do in their lives.
How much experience do you have working with people who’s race, culture, or sexual orientation differ from yours?
That’s a very good question. I’ve been doing social work since 2005, so, over 10 years. I’ve also been working in the school system for 18 years now. They put us in different schools for different reasons [to connect with cultures and races]. BA has a large Creole population, so I’m here to assist with that. But, basically, we are here to remove barriers of all kinds. If kids aren’t coming to school, we figure out why they’re not coming to school. Is there a problem at home? Do they not have enough food or clothing? Is it a transportation issue, or is it that they don’t like Boyd Anderson or they don’t like school at all? So we meet the student and do an assessment. We ask a lot of question to figure out why they’re not coming, and we help them deal with these things. If it’s social or emotions, we counsel. If it’s transportation, we work with helping them with getting transportation. If it’s food, we make sure parents know where the food banks are. If students don’t have clothes, we give them a referral to the clothing bank. Sometimes we buy them clothes or give them a gift card to go to Walmart to get what they need.. So, you ask what a social worker does? (Laughter fills the room). We do everything!