Author: Sarah Pearce
School Social Worker, New Hanover County Schools
“What’s it like to be a school social worker during the pandemic?” I have received this question from friends and family many times since school closed mid-March. The answer is far from simple, and involves an understanding of what a school social worker does when there is not a pandemic.
Prior to the outage, my day to day consisted of a wide range of responsibilities. I assisted with identifying and supporting families who found themselves facing homelessness, connecting these families to community resources (such as NourishNC) and advocating for their legal rights within the school system. I lead an intervention team for behavior and academics with an awesome partner and our special education team. This work allowed me to lead several groups and one on one interventions around student behavior as well as stay in regular communication with their parents and teachers. These student sessions included lessons on social skills, self regulation, coping with anxiety, and more. I provided class counseling around important topics like bullying, kindness, and social/emotional learning. I went on home visits to check on families. I worked directly with community partners to connect families to local agencies that could assist them. I worked with kids to lead service opportunities for the community. I helped kids who were having rough days by offering drop in counseling (at times leading crisis intervention), and often helped teachers with the same. School social work is very social and depends on the importance of the human relationships, which has been the biggest obstacle to working during this pandemic. I managed attendance for the school, rewarding those with monthly perfect attendance and educating families of policy and law to those in violation of attendance policy, assisting with addressing barriers to improve attendance.
So, how have things changed?
Attendance is no longer enforced, but I have been communicating with families regularly to encourage online learning. We have distributed hundreds of iPads from the school to help kids get connected. I have worked with families to refer them to Internet services offered from the community, or allowed them to drive up and use the school as a hotspot. I have worked with teachers and families to create individualized learning plans when the barriers to online learning have been too much. I have called, texted, and emailed parents for hours a day in order to check on them, connect them to online learning, and offer resources. Families have needed access to mental health resources, assistance understanding P-EBT benefits, emergency toilet paper, and MANY for the first time ever, food. We have many working families who lived paycheck to paycheck. With their employment cut off, they are finding themselves navigating the world needing community assistance for the first time ever. I have been a liaison connecting them to this support, and have countless times been thankful for NourishNC to be such an amazing and reliable resource for our families.
Providing leadership opportunities in service has always been a focal point of my practice. Prior to the pandemic, I was working with a group of 4th graders to paint canvases to raffle off for Relay for Life, an event we named Canvas for the Cure. Unfortunately the school outage interrupted and indefinitely delayed their plans, leaving half finished paintings in my office. In speaking to the kids about the pandemic, they expressed how much they cared about their classmates and wanted to help those in need, so I led a Virtual Food Drive to benefit NourishNC. The choice to raise money for Nourish NC was an easy one from my point of view watching their amazing response to this pandemic. Every child I referred for assistance was given access to healthy foods, these were families who otherwise did not know how they would fill their pantries. The Bellamy and CRECC community really stepped up and were excited to participate. One parent shared even after the family donated, their son wanted to add some of his birthday money to the fund raiser. In total, we raised $3,210 by spreading the word and working together.
The best part of my days are when I am able to use technology to continue student groups and sessions. I have learned how to set up a google classroom to provide my students with calm down and self regulation tools and activities. I have learned how to schedule and host Zoom meetings in which we have a lesson very similar to what we were doing in person. There was one child who wore his book bag to the session because he missed how it felt to go to school and see his friends. He was missing his human relationships that are so important. These sessions help to provide a sense of safety, security, and normalcy for all who are able to participate, myself included. We are able to connect as humans and build our relationships back up, in turn – building resiliency.
Things are very different during the pandemic, but some things do not change. While I cannot go and see my families, I am grateful to be in the age of technology in which we can connect virtually. While many more families are finding themselves needing access to services, our community is lucky to have organizations like NourishNC answering the call. The hardest part of school social work while working from home is missing in-person social interaction, but with a little creativity and digital assistance, human relationships prevail.
School Social Worker, New Hanover County Schools
**Editor’s Note: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual, nor to NourishNC.**