As a White school social worker who worked in an urban district that primarily serves students and families of color, I am still livid that another Black son…partner…brother…friend…father, was taken with the murder of George Floyd. I wonder how my former students and their families are coping. And with the whole wider world finally talking openly about systemic racism these past few months, I wonder how my former students might be reflecting on their own experiences at school. I too am reflecting back on my time in schools but possibly in a much different way than they are. Along with the ever-present feeling of “I should have done more”, I find myself asking “Why didn’t I?”.
As Kjirsten points out, there is a wisdom that comes from those who work the frontline, those who know what is happening and know the points of pain. The leadership that can be offered through this experience holds value and power. We have a unique position to serve as a liaison among the systems within the schools we serve. We hold the perspective of our students, their families, teachers, and paraprofessionals.
I want to share that the SMHAPP was a great addition to what I already had with my MSW. What this program helped me not only with all the material
that is very practical for me to use in practice, is the that just seeing, hearing and listening to what social work is and how big of an impact we can actually have was a mentality change for me. I would encourage anyone to go for it and do the SMHAPP because the one year we have in internship practice in a school is not enough to learn everything there is. So again, I felt like I needed more. And like others said it’s not just something else I had to do. It was a pleasure to do these things.
Loyola SMHAPP 2020 Graduates Nadia Gomez-Moran & Lisa Johnson Haire talk about their experience in the School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP). Last month, I put together short Zoom webinars with the SMHAPP grads who had worked together in our “dyad” format as part of their 2-year cohort. They spoke about their experiences overall in the SMHAPP Certificate, but mostly I asked them to talk about each others’ work and what they learned from their time together. As Lisa put it so beautifully, “we joined (the SMHAPP Certifcate) as strangers, and we’re leaving it as friends.”
No matter how we get involved, without a doubt, school social workers are in a place of leadership. While leading with good intention is a start, is it enough? When considering our role in pushing the lead to more equitable school systems and work of the like, the harsh reality is – probably not.
These moments are important. Not just for our staff, our community, or for this student in particular, but for all students, all students of color, and especially all Black students, to know that they have a voice and it is valued and important. I learned more from him during these meetings on how to be a better teacher than I did during all of my years in college.
Although I know the importance of self-care, I was struggling with implementing a plan. I thought about how I planned to intentionally prepare social-emotional lessons for my students to achieve success. I needed to generalize those skills and include them in my weekly self-care plan too. I wanted to be proactive instead of reactive.
As a member of the 2018-2020 SMHAPP cohort (c/o Loyola University – Chicago), I was asked to develop a ‘school change project.’ I was tasked with identifying a problem that I hoped to investigate, use research and data to develop a plan, implement said plan to address the problem, and report the results and insights gained. This is what I did and what I learned.