School social workers took time to share why what they do means so much to them during Social Work Month.
“I chose to be a social worker in a school because I want to ensure each child feels safe and loved at home and at school by addressing the barriers that interfere with their well-being,” said Myrenia Aviles, a school social worker for Glendale Elementary School District.
School social workers are trained mental health professionals who can help enhance students’ emotional well-being, assist with behavioral concerns, provide positive academic, classroom and behavioral support to improve students’ academic performance, provide training, and assist with all sorts of challenges students and their families experience.
Michelle Henson, a school social worker at Tempe High School, said, “I chose to be a social worker because of our principles based on the core values of ‘service, social justice, dignity and worth of a person, importance of relationships, integrity and competence.’”
“I strive every day to make a positive difference in someone’s life and let them know they do not have to go through challenging times alone. Social workers help relieve the suffering and empower people to make a positive difference in their life,” Henson said.
“We teach real-life stuff, such as how to manage conflict and emotions, problem-solve and make positive choices,” Henson said. “One of my main goals every year is that every student knows they have a whole team of support staff here to assist them, should they need it.”
Earlier this month, many schools honored their essential work during National School Social Work Week, which was celebrated March 6-12 this year, as a way to recognize the impactful work school social workers do to support students, families and their communities.
The theme this year of “Time to Shine” reflects how school social workers shine hope, understanding and respect for students, families and communities by focusing on the whole child, connecting families with community resources and playing important roles as part of school multidisciplinary teams.
“School social workers are humble professionals, who often are the voice for students and families but do not always voice the value they add to the school community,” said Rebecca Oliver, LMSW, executive director of School Social Work Association of America.
“School Social Workers shine a light on the need for mental health services, offering hope for students and families who face various challenges, and lighting the way for marginalized youth,” Oliver said.
Eskesha Clark, a social worker at Mountain Pointe High School, said she has been in the field of social work for over 20 years in many capacities from being a Certified Nursing Assistant, probation counselor, police liaison/ victim advocate, case manager and youth specialist.
“Regardless of the position, I love working with people and I trust in the goodness of people and believe that change is possible,” Clark said.
“In my position, the best feeling in the world is when someone realizes their true potential and changes their lives for the better and forever,” Clark said.
The Arizona Auditor General’s report that tracks school spending each year recognizes school social workers’ essential role by including them in student support, a key part of classroom spending – comprised of instruction, instruction support and student support.
Instruction spending includes salaries and benefits for teachers and instructional aides, costs related to instructional supplies – such as pencils, paper and workbooks – instructional software, athletics, co-curricular activities – such as band and choir – and tuition paid to private institutions for students with special needs. Student support is comprised of school district spending on counselors, social workers, school nurses, speech pathologists, audiologists and attendance services, while instructional support includes librarians, teacher training, curriculum development and instructional related technology services.
Brenda Escamilla, a social worker in Cartwright School District, works to change the lives of the scholars she works with each and every day.
“I chose to be a social worker in a school because I want to address barriers that impact a student’s learning and to improve the education system as a whole,” said Kristin Taylor, a social worker in Glendale Elementary School District.
School social workers have been critically important in assisting students’ needs that have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. The increased demand and the shortage of school social workers has led schools to seek partnerships with local agencies to help students succeed in school and life.
Caitlyn McCrain, a school social worker in Cartwright School District, helps sustain safe and caring schools throughout the community and beyond.
“I chose to be a social worker in a school because I want to use my life experiences to empower youth and help them build confidence to be successful adults,” said Jessica Huston, a social worker in Glendale Elementary School District.