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.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers felt alone and in need of support. As someone who had to embark on this virtual education journey, I understand. In response to what we thought was a need to connect educators who support students with special needs, students, alumni, and faculty at the Loyola University of Chicago created the Special Needs Network for Educators (SNNE). The goal of this online community is to connect educators who support students with special needs to each other. Our community includes current and pre-service teachers alike. All are welcome!
We knew the kids were accessing wellness information (on our Clinician’s Corner site) when they started sharing personal struggles regarding mood, eating habits, and behaviors. Julie and I noticed that the kids were either commenting on not being active, their weight gain, or in their words, “laziness.”
Rather than viewing the pandemic and school shutdown as a professional dilemma, colleagues Lori Klein and Julie Robinson approached the situation as an opportunity. Lori, a School Social Worker, and Julie, a School Psychologist, expanded their reach by creating a virtual classroom. What started as a virtual lifeline grew into a live, interactive community focused around social-emotional competencies with a splash of fun.
“ I was feeling pretty burned out at school, you know, working as a school social worker. I was feeling like I was spinning my wheels and I didn’t have. I felt like I needed support I needed more tools. And so in this program I did find that I found a cohort, I found a cohort of other school social workers that have been extremely supportive and then I also learned so much about evidence based and evidence informed programs.”
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.”