School social workers have played an important role in students’ education particularly during the pandemic. (Shutterstock)

School social workers have played an important role in students’ education particularly during the pandemic. (Shutterstock)

Social workers make important contributions to schools

Mental health professionals support students in myriad ways

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San Francisco public schools are fortunate to have many different types of staff who support students. Today, in recognition of National School Social Worker Month, I want to celebrate our school social workers who are essential to completing school communities.

School social workers are trained mental health professionals who focus on coordinating the efforts of schools, families and communities toward helping students improve their academic achievement and social, emotional and behavioral competence by using the unique perspective of viewing the person in their environment.

Creating welcome school environments

School social workers are meaningful contributors to establishing and communicating a welcoming school environment. School social workers promote family partnership, respect and uplift culture, listen with their ears and their heart, and foster safe and supportive school environments. During distance learning, school social workers have created meaningful virtual spaces for student healing and connection. For instance, the school social worker at Jefferson Elementary School posts a weekly wellness video message for students and families.

Fostering hope and resilience

School social workers often give hope to individuals who are feeling overwhelmed and build and nurture student and family resilience and protective factors. They recognize strengths in the child or family, offer support, help them visualize a way through or around a challenge, and come alongside them to help them see a brighter tomorrow.

At James Denman Middle School, the social worker facilitates a Filipino student group with 10 students. The students decided they wanted to use the group time as a cooking class, so they partnered with the community organizations and had the food ingredients delivered to students before the meeting. They cook together on Zoom, making delicious meals for their families.

Identifying and linking to resources and supports

School social workers realize that life is full of challenges, difficulties and barriers to success. Children and families can be faced with a variety of barriers like poverty, homelessness, mental health challenges, lack of access to needed resources, bullying, academic challenges, inequities and injustices. School social workers use their knowledge and skills to support students and families, leverage resources, and help identify solutions or coping skills needed to navigate rough waters.

Since the start of the pandemic last year, school social workers in San Francisco Unified School District have provided support to thousands of students and families based on needs identified during quarterly Family Wellness Check phone calls home to every household. With the help of community organizations, social workers have helped families access basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, technology). The social worker at Civic Center Secondary School delivered homework and enrollment packets and food to students’ homes and will deliver hygiene packets in the coming weeks.

Here are a few ways to celebrate your school social worker

— Send them a personal thank you note. Consider mentioning specific examples of why you appreciate them.

— Promote thank you/appreciation notes to your school social worker from members of your school community.

— Encourage cards/drawings or virtual messages from students (individually or as a classroom group): “This year you taught me …”, “I appreciate my school social worker for …”

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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