Assembly College students’ Wants: College social employees break down obstacles and bridge gaps | Schooling
Learn about the role social workers play in meeting the needs of students in the local school district.
The parents were looking for adequate childcare.
A family needed help with the rental.
A student sat in the dark with the electricity turned off.
It’s been a very busy first semester for Angelina Romano, the newly hired social worker for the South Middleton School District.
“I’m a channel most of the time,” she told school board members at a recent meeting. “I work with families and connect them with everything they need.”
Much of their job is helping others break down barriers to learning. It can be difficult for students to focus on class when they are hungry, lacking basic needs, or having difficulties at home.
Professionals like Romano serve as facilitators in the school districts, helping parents and children navigate the support networks that schools make available to provide assistance.
“We wanted to make sure our families had access to community partnerships,” said Alex Smith, student services director for the South Middleton School District. “A social worker can be that channel.”
Like everything else, solutions begin with recognizing that there is a problem. For South Middleton, the proposal to hire a social worker arose out of discussions about the budget for 2021-22.
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In May, Smith outlined key indicators showing the need to hire a social worker – a decline in student numbers, an increase in anxiety, and a five-fold increase in the number of students identified as temporary households.
Smith described these students as either homeless and living in temporary shelters or being transferred to different locations depending on their circumstances.
In 2018, three students within the district matched this description – that number rose to 15 last year. Smith said it was difficult to tell whether the increase was due to actual economic or social conditions, or to greater efficiency in student identification.
Romano came to South Middleton with experience as a social worker in Cumberland County. Weeks after her new job, she learned that living in the district is an important issue.
“Homes that used to be rented are now being sold to families who want to live there,” she said. “That drives up the rent. Before, you could find a decent family home for $ 900 to $ 1,000 a month. Now you can’t touch an apartment for less than $ 800 a month. There aren’t many homes in South Middleton Township. “
While Romano said her sample size includes students of all grade levels, her focus has been mostly on older students because they are better able to articulate and stand up for their needs.
“Maybe we have families with other family members,” said Romano. “Younger children may not realize that this is not normal.”
The same applies to food insecurities.
Secondary school enrollment was down in the final school year compared to pre-COVID levels in 2018-19, Smith said in May. Attendance at Boiling Springs High School increased from 94% to 90%, while attendance at Yellow Breeches Middle School increased from 95% to 91%.
This drop in attendance was related to conditions that existed due to the pandemic, including the district’s switch to a hybrid classroom model to allow social distancing.
In the fall of 2020, the district conducted a wellness screening of secondary school students to determine levels of anxiety during COVID compared to historical pre-pandemic averages for grades 6-12.
The number of high school students who said they were afraid rose from 24% in previous years to 30% in 2020. For middle school students, overall fear rose from 24% to 34% over the same period.
Even before COVID, students said they felt less connected to the school district, said Danae Klock, a consultant at Yellow Breeches Middle School.
Klock defines solidarity as a combination of school spirit and enjoyment of dealing with teachers and fellow students. One of the main reasons for the separation is the escalating socio-economic burden on families. Some students today are so distracted that it is difficult to focus on studying.
Although the role of the school counselor has been expanded to meet this challenge, the number of cases can make it difficult for each counselor to address individual needs.
“Our top priority is to be there for the entire student body,” said Klock. “We are there to train and support the entire student body.”
For South Middleton, the role of counselor includes teaching lessons designed to provide students with coping and goal setting skills. There are lessons in empathy, suicide prevention, anti-bullying, and learning how to balance personality traits with career aspirations.
“From a school counseling perspective, we are realizing the time it will take to break down barriers and ensure families have access to what they need,” said Smith. “We had to dive deeply to understand the context and situation of our families. This is a really difficult job for a counselor who is responsible for all of our students. “
With Google Forms, Romano has developed a format to process recommendations from teachers, administrators and employees. She said she has succeeded in connecting families with government agencies and social services that provide assistance with grocery stamps, utility bills, childcare, rental assistance, pest control and home appliances.
Romano said she made home visits to assess the social and financial needs of students and their families while looking out for evidence of domestic violence and / or substance abuse.
Connection with home school
Mary Boone has been a social worker for the Carlisle Area School District for approximately 20 years. Her job arose out of the need to provide extra support for special school students after Carlisle brought several classrooms from the Capital Area Intermediate Unit.
“One of the most important things I’ve been doing lately is getting mental health care,” Boone said. “That was a big driving need this year and especially last year.”
Their role includes reaching out to families to provide them with vital information that will help them meet the needs of their students. The work includes teamwork between the parents, supervisors, teachers, school principals, the district director of the student union and the district director for special needs education.
“There’s no such thing as a typical day,” said Boone. “I like that about it. It never gets boring. I have meetings, but you never know when something will appear in an email or a phone call. “
School social workers have common qualifications in that the position requires a state license and a master’s degree in social work. What differs from district to district are the tasks of the social workers.
Where their duties overlap, Boone works closely with Todd McCauslin, the home school attendee of the Carlisle Area School District. His specialty is reducing truancy by connecting families to community resources.
The Big Spring School District has one home schooler whose duties have evolved from a focus on reducing truancy to ensuring families have access to resources that meet basic needs, said Superintendent Kevin Roberts.
“In the past few years, truancy would have had immediate consequences and fines,” he said. “Today we are exhausting all possibilities of support before we start to draw conclusions.”
Big Spring educators recognize that there are families in the county where parents have multiple jobs just to make ends meet. “Making sure students get up on time is a challenge,” said Roberts.
With that knowledge came the change in professional focus, where home school attendee Jessica Winesickle works with each family to provide support that gets students to school on time.
“Schools do a lot more than we used to,” said Roberts. “The needs of the students have grown enormously. We are a much more complex society. “
There is often a direct connection between the poverty level of a district and the need of the families. An important indicator of poverty is the percentage of students who are entitled to free or reduced lunch.
“When I started here about 17 years ago, our district was around 11-12%,” said Roberts. “Today that number is around 38% across the district.”
Email Joseph Cress at email@example.com.
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