From School to Home & Back Again: A School Social Worker’s Story
I am a mere 11 months into my school social work career and I have already seen another side to my practice as it applies to students, their families, and the greater community. I wear my experience as a badge of honor and I attribute it to going from daily school life and routine to working from home and then back again – all in less than a year. I continue to anticipate the next gear change and just how to get it right in the time of COVID (or rather, I am working towards some semblance of getting it right).
Through it all, I have had to rework what I envisioned a school social worker’s life would be while still intentionally providing support to the staff and families I serve.
I made my dream career change in January 2020. Even after 10+ years of post-graduate social work life, I busied myself with efforts to become familiar with the building, the district, and the many other facets of daily school life. Out of it all, the biggest perk was the school environment and the energy that you find amidst the classrooms along with the camaraderie of the staff and administrators.
Pack It Up
None of this, however, prepared me for the grinding halt our lives would come to in mid-March. In my district, we went home one Friday and did not see the kids in the “regular” school setting again. It was heartbreaking.
On top of being the newest member of the Student Services Team, I now found myself running along with everyone else just to play catch-up week-by-week in order to meet the needs of the students, teachers, and the district alike.
After more than two solid months of working from home, I was a ‘work from home’ pro. I even did a soft makeover of my new workspace (aka the kitchen) and considered starting a garden – well, enough to Google information and buy some gardening supplies – it was a start!
While I had grown accustomed to this ‘new normal’, I still found myself grappling with how to best support our students and families. More often than not, I had to make do with parent contact as many students lacked interest in a 1-1 with their school social worker on Zoom…despite their affinity for hanging out in my office and gobbling chocolate and other treats in person.
I was so thankful for summer break even though it came just a bit too fast with all that needed to be done to wrap up the school year. My idealized summer break, pre-COVID, included travel adventures and family fun. None of that fit with my goal to live more simply or the new restrictions put in place by the state. My summer was left to revolve around my part-time job, the only other routine reason to leave the house outside of grocery shopping. I was definitely not living in 2020 in the ways I had envisioned.
Okay, Come On Back
Fall of 2020 brought me the opportunity to return to school (yay!) but it was nothing like I had dreamed the first day of school might be. I had walked around idealizing thoughts of back-to-school shopping and decorating my office; however, the world had changed just enough for none of that to be important.
I joined my Student Services Team in the effort to hold a stiff upper lip and encourage the students to embrace the new, more structured virtual school setup all while taking in the continuous policy and procedure updates from the district.
I returned to school and tackled my work, day by day, still not knowing the long-term plan of what would happen or what I should expect. My day now consisted of a daily health screener in the morning, donning a face mask, being screened again upon arriving at work, and desperately searching for a safe mask break by mid-morning. Things that had been commonplace at the beginning of the year, meeting new staff, and building camaraderie all looked different with social distancing.
The bright spot in it all, my district allowed the administration and staff to return to school and get acclimated prior to re-introducing the students to the building. After 2 months of “back to school,” I got a 2nd start to the new year, this time with kids, bus duty, and parent orientations but it wasn’t quite business as usual. No hugs and no (visible) smiles: thank you, face masks. Regardless, I was grateful, even for this scaled-back version of what school used to be.
Who would have thought that 2020 would bring the notion of how we “used” to do school? Then again, who could have imagined that this year would take us out of school and put us back again with such drastic changes to normalcy?
Sometimes I miss working from home: the commute was good and the dress code was even better. Of course, none of it compares to being at school, present, and more accessible to those that need you.
Mask Up & Stay Tuned
We are almost at the holiday break of our school year and still, there so many uncertainties that remain. Although I could not have ever imagined how my 1st year of school social work would turn out, I do know that I am a more ‘present’ person because of it all. As I look around at what the school system has had to do, how the parents continue to be open to coming to the table, and the work we are all putting in to make sense of everyday life, I know that I am just where I need to be. An added bonus is that on an almost daily basis, I get to see just how important social workers are to the school landscape.
Even more so, I have seen a world of possibilities, where school professionals band together in ways that are just short of amazing, in order to meet the needs of the students where they are.
Despite it all, I know that being a social worker in the midst of a pandemic is not only where I need to be but where I want to be. Being at school requires the best of me and that is what I am willing to give.