School social workers form line of defense

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 13, 2001

The recent school shootings in California, Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the country have again thrust violence and other social issues into the national spotlight.

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

The recent school shootings in California, Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the country have again thrust violence and other social issues into the national spotlight.

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Albert Lea schools, as well as many other districts in the area, already have a tight line of defense against society’s problems spilling into public schools – the corps of school social workers who link schools with homes and the community.

These professionals not only intervene in times of family and student crisis, they also focus on prevention.

&uot;Much of our work involves creating and maintaining connections,&uot; said Halverson Elementary social worker Teri Nelson. &uot;We try very hard to know what’s on the minds of the students, including their home life. If those lines of communication are open, we should know about problems before they turn into huge issues like violence.&uot;

Dawn Berg, social worker at Sibley Elementary, said one of her jobs is to implement programs to prevent violence or other problems from manifesting itself in the schools. Peer mediation and conflict resolution definitely has a place in public schools, she said.

&uot;That shooting in Santee, Calif. raises some questions in my mind. Apparently many of the students had clues to what was going on, but not with the teachers and administration,&uot; Berg said.

Berg said school social work involves a lot of listening – to students, teachers, parents and community members.

&uot;Many students feel they never have the opportunity to just talk with an adult, especially when it comes to their worst fears and biggest concerns,&uot; Berg said. &uot;Our job is to listen to the students to help create that safe environment they need.&uot;

Kim Anderson, social worker at Lakeview Elementary, said parents have just as many concerns as students. Many of her calls every week come from moms and dads wondering about safety, substance abuse, family changes, student relationships. Sometimes the concern can be something as simple as attendance.

&uot;Truancy is something we work on a lot. With young kids, especially, we can instill some good decision making about school so it won’t become a problem when they’re older,&uot; Anderson said.

All the school social workers in the district are constantly in touch with parents. In fact, home visits are a good way to work with students and parents outside of school.

&uot;Mainly, we do that for context. We’re trained in family systems, which means we look at the best interest of the whole child within the context of school, family, friends and community,&uot; said Berg.

&uot;We’re available to parents when the have questions about parenting issues. We also provide them with information about how to access information and support in the community,&uot; Anderson said.

Teamwork is an important component of school social work, Nelson said. All of the district’s five social workers work together every day to solve problems and share resources. Collaborating with teachers, administrators and community resources gives social workers more avenues to explore in the course of their work.

&uot;Teachers are very important to us,&uot; said Nelson. &uot;We couldn’t do our jobs without their support. We all have student performance at the forefront of our minds.&uot;

One of the district’s social workers, Deann Loge, has a slightly different perspective from her work at the high school. Though drugs and alcohol and tobacco are big concerns, student relationships create an entirely different dynamic.

&uot;Teens have some complicated relationships with one another. They can be fine one minute and the next they are at each other’s throat, calling each other horrible names, and making other friends choose one or the other,&uot; Loge said.

The district’s social workers are happy to work in a supportive community like Albert Lea. But the need of social support in the schools is ever present.

&uot;I think many people in this community would be shocked to know how many of our children are living in poverty,&uot; said Anderson. &uot;Many more households have parents who work shifts which do not allow much time for active parenting.&uot;