Social Workers: Strengthening the bridge between school and home

InspireNOLA’s social workers support students, families both in and out of school
Posted on 10/26/2020

School Social Workers serve as the link between families, school and the community by providing needed support both academically and socially-emotionally for the students they serve.

For the social workers at InspireNOLA, this means days filled with many things, including evaluating risk management, IAPs, 504s, IEPS; serving as mediators and liaisons for homeless students, child protective services, family court, and community organizations; helping students and families get basic needs met; and so much more.

“A large part of what social workers do on a daily basis is crisis management,” Alexandra Eakin, a social worker at Alice Harte, said.

“Crisis” can take many forms, said Albert Jones of 42 Charter school, from relatively minor incidents of breaking up fights and de-escalating conflict to suicide prevention and child abuse intervention.

“It’s about meeting the social and emotional needs of all children,” said Shawnell Ware of McDonogh 35.

Le’Ann Rodgers of Edna Karr says there is a common misconception that social workers are there to take away children from their families because that is what’s shown on television and in movies

“But really it’s the exact opposite,” said Symetha Love of Dwight Eisenhower. “We are there to support the family in any way we can.” 

“We’re really there to serve the children first and bring families together,” Ware agreed.

Dr. Keisha Simpson, a former school social worker who now serves as manager of all InspireNOLA social workers, said “We’re advocates for the child and the family. We can offer them an abundance of resources to help meet their needs.”

Students can be referred to social workers in a number of ways for a number of reasons. It could be for academic, behavior, or emotional reasons or they have a basic need that isn’t being met, or there could be a larger issue of homelessness or abuse. Anyone can recommend a student be seen by a school social worker. Ware said once she establishes trust with one student, she often notices that they start bringing other friends to her for help.

InspireNOLA social workers“Older students tend to find their way to you,” said Jones, “but younger kids don’t always find a way. That’s why it’s important that everyone plays a role in identifying anyone that might need assistance.”

Once a child is referred to a social worker, a number of things may happen, depending on the issue. Generally, there is an assessment, a de-escalation if needed, and identifying of what triggered the crisis.

“It’s all about advocating for the kids,” Simpson said. “It’s getting to the real issues and how and why it effects them.”

Once they understand the source of a problem, they can work to solve it, which often times, involves educating students and families.

“Children are here to learn and this is the best place to learn behavioral and coping skills,” Centrell Brown, of Andrew Wilson said. “For some children, school is a sanctuary and a good place to feel safe emotionally.” 

Simpson agreed, saying there are so many factors of life that impact students’ education. 

“I chose to be a school social worker to empower, and advocate for students so they can have the tools needs to grow,” she said.

Jones joked that the job would be simpler if there was a routine, however, he said, “90 percent of the time, your day doesn’t go the way that you had planned.”

“Nobody can plan for a crisis,” Brown said. 

“You definitely have to be flexible in this job,” Love added.

Thoughts of their students’ situations often follow these social workers home at the end of the day.

“I try really hard to turn my brain off when I leave work,” said Jones. “I’m not always very successful.”

Ware said being part of a team like at InspireNOLA and having friends in the profession helps.

“They get it. They know the struggle,” added Rodgers.

As a team, they meet and collaborate regularly and support each other through the successes and the challenges.

“We’re kind of like the gorilla glue that holds it all together,” Ware said.
“Getting to help students and families is extra rewarding,” she said.

Ware said part of what enjoys is seeing the growth of her students, saying, “I love seeing them mature and then walk across that stage at graduation.”

Eakin said it’s the children that keep her so driven. 

“They are so pure. They get so excited to see you. And honestly, seeing those kids every day just makes me so happy! They can really brighten up anyone's day,” she said, adding that she loves getting texts from parents of former students who have now moved on to high school and beyond. “You get to see their growth and progression in life and you take joy in knowing you had something to do with it.”