As a way to help students succeed in school, the Carson City School District has hired 12 social workers to improve students’ emotional and mental learning.
The social workers are funded by a School Social Workers grant from the Nevada Department of Education under the Senate Bill 515.
Carson City’s $40,000 grant will pay for three full-time and nine part-time licensed counselors in the schools.
Their role will be to provide extra attention to troubled or struggling students with more one–on-one help both inside and outside of the classroom, said Project Manager Dave Caloiaro.
“(Our counselor) works with struggling kids and their families, who we know have issues that translates to school,” said Eagle Valley Middle School Principal Lee Conley. “They work closely with the family, and also touch base daily with them, and help direct the parents to other resources.
“It allows them to provide deeper connections for kids who need more or deeper help.”
To keep the grant funding, the district must administer a climate, social and emotional learning survey to students in the fall and spring of each year, which serves as a needs assessment to justify the social workers’ resources for the schools, Caloiaro said.
A social worker is assigned to each of the district’s 10 schools, with three at Carson High. The goal is that by helping students with the emotional or mental struggles they may be having, it can help promote or ensure educational and academic success. The students are referred to the social workers by school staff, including principals, vice principals, teachers and counselors.
Once a student has been referred, the social worker will conduct an assessment of the student and family needs and develop a plan and approach to assist with those needs.
“That approach may include, but not be limited to, providing or arranging parent education, linking parents and students to community resources based on their needs, advocacy, and case management for students and families who require longer term intervention,” Caloiaro said.
The social workers have already affected students just by being in the buildings.
“To have someone who can go into the classrooms if we need, and have one more person in the halls to try and catch the behavior when it happens and correct it,” said Eagle Valley social worker Victoria Smith. “By embedding myself into the school, we can catch more of that, and as we do it, we can continue to help those students and work with them to accomplish those necessary goals.”
Conley said he saw Smith make a positive change in their school community in the spring months.
“This program is a good addition, Smith has been working really well with the kids and families in greater depth,” Conley said. “As much as the counselors love to give these kids more time, they have to touch base with 650 other students and that is where (the social workers) come in.”
Though the schools all have certified counselors, adding in the social workers to collaborate with them not only lightens their load, but also allows for one-on-one attention for students in need.
“Our counselors have so many students on their case load, so the ones we work with are those with the one-on-one needs,” said Smith. “So these student’s names may have come up with the principals or peers who said they were concerned. And this is the kind of stuff that counselors have dealt with since the end of time and we can work more closely with those students.”
“If we can strengthen the student and the family, we can strive for the child’s success at school.”
The social workers help the teachers so they can focus exclusively on teaching and not also playing the role of counselor.
“The teachers need to be teachers, and they are amazing and good at what they do, but if we want our education system to improve, then we need to let the teachers just be teachers,” said Jolene Dille, the social worker with Pioneer High School. “We needed to find others in the system to address those student needs.
“We need someone to be able to get to the root of the problem so that we can help them be successful and that’s our goal to help them be successful in ways like following up in ways that schools haven’t been able to do before.”
The program began in April, working with students and families, following up with them throughout the summer, and building social emotional learning programs for the students come the start of school.
“Our vision is to impact as many students as possible and extend it to families,” said Smith.
For the social workers, sometimes providing support for the family is what it takes to help the students in school. If a family is struggling financially or with substance abuse, that familial stress can trickle down to the student and lessen their chances for success.
“We can’t expect students to be successful in school if their home life isn’t good,” said Dille. “I am a believer of the home system benefits and to find the positive of what the kids and families are good at to find what resources to help for what they are struggling on.”
For Dille, working closely with the students helps assure them that there is at least one person who believes they will succeed.
“My passion has always been at-risk kids, and these are the kids people often give up on by this point,” Dille said. “They need that one person who won’t give up on them. These kids have experienced lives that most people have never had to go through and that is why I am excited to be at PHS, because these are really good kids and I think people forget that.”
“We don’t want to admit these students have these realities, but we need to make sure we have support to address these needs and support the students in more than academic needs whether that is mental health or things at home.”
Though it is a difficult job working with both the students and families to provide that support, the social workers enjoy getting to work with this group of people.
“For any social worker, you see the worst situations in the community and most are seemingly unsolvable so you are constantly problem solving and following up to strengthen the families so it is hard but it is also really important,” Smith said. “You are trying to make that positive change.”