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School Social Worker Doug Spohn Receives Award
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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

 SPOTLIGHT: Florida Student Services Week Feb. 6-11

Florida’s Student Services Week, which honors school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers and career education staff, is Feb. 6-11. To celebrate the hard work of support system staffers who assist our students along their journey through education, the Pinellas County Schools Newsroom highlights Doug Spohn, social worker at St. Petersburg High School.

Social worker Doug Spohn is a counselor, a mediator, a service referral specialist. First and foremost, though, he’s a champion for his students at St. Petersburg High School.  Hence his motto: “Students come first…always.”  So when 17-year-old Alicia Klingensmith went to Spohn last fall and said a documentary on homeless students had struck a chord with her, Spohn was there to help.  “I just remember the numbers. It’s alarming how high they are. It was an awakening for me,” said Klingensmith, a senior at St. Petersburg High School.
Spohn, the school’s social worker, knew of three students in particular who really needed help. One young man and his mother were bunking at a friend’s home. And a pair of siblings were living at a short-term motel.  Klingensmith spread the word amongst her fellow seniors in the school’s International Baccalaureate program and donations began pouring in, while Spohn handled the logistics.  Ten people received a holiday meal, but there was still more food to go around. Suddenly, the school had a food pantry.  Row upon row of canned yams, beans, tomatoes, ravioli, green beans and pineapple are housed in a small closet outside Spohn’s office. Students headed home to bare cupboards are always welcome, as well as those who may not have lunch.  Sometimes, Spohn, 53, takes supplies to student’s homes.  “We’re actually branching out into hygiene items,” Spohn said.  The program aligns well with Spohn’s motto: “Students come first…always.” The veteran social worker has been with Pinellas County Schools for eight years, but has worked with children and adolescents through an additional 24 years in the social services field.
Hannah Rinaldi, curriculum specialist, works with Spohn on the school’s child study team and the Girlfriends Club, which empowers young women through lessons on leadership and character.  “He’s always so concerned about the kids. He really has their best interest at heart,” Rinaldi said.
Spohn has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from West Chester (Pa.) University and a master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College just outside of Philadelphia, PA.  He is the immediate past president of the Florida Association of School Social Workers and has served on the board of directors of the School Social Work Association of America. In addition to the Girlfriends Club, he is a co-advisor for the Gay Straight Alliance at St. Pete High, and has been a Doorways mentor for the past three years.  
Spohn said his most important role is “to be on the side of the student.”  “I want each student to feel better about themselves as a result of spending time with me and I want every single student I spend time with to graduate, and I tell them that,” he said.
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