school social workers in the news


Beyond the 3 R's:  Schools step up social services in hopes of improving education

“A lot of my job is trying to get the kids to a place they can learn. … You can’t expect a child to score well on the Keystone Exams or the algebra test or whatever subject you want if they are hungry, they don’t have proper clothing or they don’t know where they’re going to sleep that night.”   Kellie Irwin, school social worker in Woodland Hills for more than 30 years.

School isn’t about just reading, writing and arithmetic.  Although teachers are the most important school-controlled factor in learning, many other factors play important roles as well.  “The issues that kids have are not left at the schoolhouse door,” said Baldwin High School social worker Annette Fiovaniss.  Using their own staff and community partners, public schools are finding ways to address the many needs of children — such as hunger, homelessness, violence in their homes or communities, grief, mental health issues and inadequate clothing — that are barriers to their learning. 

 “I haven’t met one school which has enough social workers for the work they have,” said Samantha Murphy, resource services manager in the integrated services program of the county Department of Human Services.  On average,  statewide [in Pennsylvania] in 2013-14 when K-12 public school enrollment totaled more than 1.7 million students, there was one guidance counselor for every 409 students. There was an average of the full-time equivalent of 1 nurse for every 877 students, with many school nurses traveling from one building to another. And in a state with 500 school districts, there was just the full-time equivalent of 250 social workers. Read more. Source:  Chute, Eleanor.  September 6, 2015.  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Photo by Darrel Sapp

Social Workers:  On the Front Lines Helping People, Families in Need

"We were always the first responders, in a way, when it came to evaluating and addressing the problem." Joan Melbourne

Retired (school) social worker Joan Melbourne says she always felt like she was on the frontline when it came to helping others. "When you had a problem, whether it was an addiction or a criminal past or a learning disability, any sort of treatment plan you would get would usually start with the assistance of a social worker," Melbourne says. [Joan retired from the Chicago Public Schools after 27 years of service]  Read more about her work as well as the general role of social workers.    Source:  Buscaglia, Marco. May 3, 2015.  Chicago Tribune

School Social Worker Goes the Distance

“My job is to get the resources by any means necessary.” Bonilla-Galdemez 

Bonilla-Galdamez, the school’s social worker, said her job is to ensure that Barrett’s more than 450 students are “available to learn.” That is a complex challenge in a school where a third of the student body qualifies for free and ­reduced-price meals and where many families speak no English. Bonilla-Galdamez, 43, has been named the 2014 National Social Worker of the Year, with the National Association of Social Workers lauding her ability to help immigrant parents navigate the school system and her work in “helping break down language and cultural barriers so students in her care get the best possible education.”  Read article.   Source: Balingit, Moriah. April 26, 2015. The Washington Post

School Social Worker Receives Social Justice Award

"It's just about respecting the dignity of human beings. It's essential. It's about people knowing they have advocates and knowing they will be listened to"  (Middle School ) is a pretty critical time, so anytime there's a chance to influence kids more creatively in decision making and awareness, it's good."  Stephen Higgins

Stephen Higgins is "one of four individuals and groups selected to be honored by (the) McKinley (Foundation at the University of Illinois) at its annual Social Justice Awards ceremony, Higgins will be recognized for his work at the middle school; empowering and advocating for minority students and members of the LGBT community.  Principal Scott Woods nominated Higgins for the award, saying the social worker is the living embodiment of what it means to defend and encourage students.  'Steve lives the mission of our school by making sure that all students have opportunity and access to the resources available to them. Advocacy for students who struggle to have a voice is one of his greatest strengths. He is passionate (about) serving all of our students,' " Woods said. Read article.   Source:  Lafond, Nicole. April 25, 2015. The News Gazette. 

An Early Warning System to Help Students Includes School Social Work Intern

City Heights in San Diego started an "Early Warning Continuum" that is "an effort to identify students considered at-risk, while providing them with personalized interventions before it’s too late."   ""when data told (Sylvia McGrade, the principal of Adams Avenue Elementary School) that a group of first-graders were missing too much school, the principal assigned Victoria Mursia to investigate. Mursia is a social work intern from Point Loma Nazarene University assigned to the school under the project."   Read about her experiences.  Source:  Magee, Maureen. April 25, 2015. U-T San Diego

Beyond the 3 Rs.

"What does a school social worker do? There is a common misperception that the school social worker only sees children who come from abusive homes or have been neglected. While these are children that the social worker helps, this is not the main work of our school social worker."  "At Hayes Leonard (Elementary), Mrs. Beth Aguayo serves our students in this capacity. Mrs. Aguayo focuses her time on teaching students skills and strategies for making our school emotionally safe, and developing the character of our students. She does mini-lessons with our students in the classroom... She organizes and meets with specialized groups of students who are having common difficulties - perhaps children whose parents are divorcing, or students who have difficulty nurturing friendships. Mrs. Aguayo facilitates a group on Lifeskills....She teaches lessons on emotional intelligence, and interpersonal coping skills. Often times, students find themselves at a loss for how to navigate through conflict, and Mrs. Aguayo works with them individually or together on how to listen and compromise.   Read more.   Source:   Article written by Hayes Leonard Elementary. April 23, 2015.

School Social Worker Awarded Ethnic Minority Affairs & Leadership Image Award

"I want students to recognize that the sky’s the limit,”  “They just have to believe, and they have to work for it. It’s gratifying to me to know that I make a difference.”  Lenora Keel

Princeton High School Social Worker Lenora Keel has been awarded the 2015 Ethnic Minority Affairs and Leadership Image Award by the New Jersey Education Association's Minority Leadership and Recruitment Committee.  The award recognizes those who have made a significant difference in education and the achievement of equal opportunity for those facing discrimination due to their ethnicity.  Read more.   Source:  Bellano, Anthony.  April 22, 2015  Princeton Patch



Not All Superheroes Wear Capes

"Education is much more than academics, it is about providing our students with inclusive opportunities to be leaders and role-models"

by Ginny Grit, School Social Worker at Forest Hills Public Schools.  Ginny's work with students was featured in the recent Forest Hills Public Schools' focus newsletter.   She received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and Special Olympics Michigan called Project Unify. The article states:   "All children have hopes, dreams and wishes.  Children who have a disability are no different.  They do not have to wear a tiara to feel like a princess or don a cape to feel like a superhero.  At Meadow Brook Elementary (Forest Hills Public Schools), all that the students from the cognitively impaired program have to do is enter their school to instantly feel the love, support, pride, encouragement, and compassion their inclusive school culture exudes." Focus Vol. 20, Issue 4   Read more. 


SSWAA Contributes Articles for Principals’ Magazine 

  • Maximize the Potential of Your School Social Worker:  Your school social worker is poised to help you navigate federal mandates, facilitate school-wide initiatives, and support students' growth and success.  Written by Annette Johnson, Clinical Assistant Professor at jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Libby K. Nealis, SSWAA's Director of Policy and Advocacy. March, 2014


  • "Helping Students Deal With Self-Injury: Identifying and helping students who self-injure requires that schools develop and adhere to protocols that maintain confidentiality, create networks of support, and teach coping skills."   The November 2013 issue of Principal Leadership, the magazine of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), underscores the importance of having skilled professionals like school social workers to help schools address the needs of students who are silently suffering. The Student Services column written by SSWAA member, Mary Beer, highlights the expertise of the school social worker. “Identifying and helping students who self-injure requires that schools develop and adhere to protocols that maintain confidentiality, create networks of support, and teach coping skills.”  Source:  Principal Leadership.  Article written by Mary Beer.



SSWAA has been invited to submit future columns in the coming months, written by school social workers, highlighting the important work we do for a variety of student populations. 

Let us know if you are interested in contributing!  


"School Social Worker is Resource for Struggling Students"

Following the recent shooting in Seattle, Seattle news team from King 5 (NBC affiliate)  featured a story on SSWAA member, Carrie Syvertsen, regarding services that she provides as a School Social Worker to struggling students.   The team reported:  "There is help for students who feel they have nowhere to turn".  Carrie and one of her students are interviewed as part of their outline of services that are available to students who need assistance in schools. See story.  Thank you Carrie for sharing your story!    Source: King5 News, Seattle, Washington, October 28,2014

Article:  The Changing Role of the School Social Worker

On January 4, 2014, Annette Johnson from the University of Illinois at the Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work authored a Featured Article for NASW-Illinois Chapter News:   "For School Social Workers:  The Changing Role of the School Social Worker".  In this article, Ms Johnson reviews the history of School Social Work, current trends and future considerations, concluding that:  "In today’s education system, it is critically important that all school social work services clearly demonstrate their relationship in supporting the academic achievement of students. Based on their training in systems theory, leadership skills in facilitation, advocacy, coordination, and strong clinical skills, school social workers have the unique opportunity to align existing services and clinical practices with emerging expectations to support RTI and SEL mandates in schools. These expectations and challenges should be met, developed, and expanded by the school social worker. They should be viewed as an opportunity to becoming a visionary practitioner and segue to the future of the profession."   Annette Johnson served as the 2014 Closing Keynote Speaker at the 17th National School Social Work Conferencesm in Chicago.   Read article here.  


Interested in locating more School Social Work Articles? 

The School Social Work - Special Interest Group's new website hosted by UNC, provides a list of recent articles that have been written.  Click here.


  • Letter to the Editor:  More School Mental Health Professionals (School Social Workers)  Needed

In a  Letter to the Editor to the Connecticut  The Courant in December, Stephen A. Karp,  the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) -CT, specifically noted the status and need for School Social Workers in the state of Connecticut.  As you know, the recommended ratio for school social workers by the School Social Work Association of America as well as NASW is 1 to 250.  As we get ready for School Social Work Week, take a look and consider writing your own version of a Letter to the Editor with relevant local data and information for your state/municipality.     Read more.

  • 2013 Whole Child Best of Blog Includes Blog by School Social Worker, Elizabeth Pfiffner on Common Core Standard

The blog post: Common Core Standards Will Benefit At-Risk Students  by Elizabeth Pfiffner is being featured as one of the best blog posts for the ASCD Whole Child.   The blog focuses on how the adoption of the Common Core State Standards will create a strong foundation for school social workers in our mission to improve academic and behavioral outcomes for all students.  Elizabeth is a School Social Worker from in the Mead School District in Spokane, Washington and a member of SSWAA Common Core Ad Hoc Committee.  Source:  ASCD Whole Child

  • Going the Extra Mile:     The Southern Poverty Law Center's Summer Issue of Teaching Tolerance includes focus on a School Social Worker.   "Vanessa Dugo goes the extra mile to connect with families. Vanessa Dugo is a school social worker at Elm Place Middle School in Highland Park, Ill.Vanessa Dugo’s principal describes her as a leader who creates a “welcoming school climate for all our students.” From facilitating a Spanish-speaking parent outreach group to organizing peer mentoring for autistic students, Dugo goes the extra mile to connect with students and their families."  She stated:  "We always strive to teach tolerance. Making sure the students in our Structured Teaching Education Program (STEP) are accepted across all settings is a high priority."    Read more  about her work with students, parents and staff in addressing school climate and tolerance.   Source:  Summer 2013 Issue of Teaching Tolerance. 


  • Lisa Von Dohlen is a Voice for Students   Lisa was awarded the 2013 School Social Worker of the Year for Buncombe County Schools.  The article states:  "Von Dohlen sees her accomplishments not in plaques and awards luncheons, but in touching the lives of children--particularly the disenfranchised who are prone to slip between he cracks.  She is alternately passionate and frustrated about the situations some students--and educators working on their behalf--endure.   'I think the majority of "ordinary" people don't have a clue about the struggles That many of our children face every day--children who don't have stable housing, nutritious food, winter coats, transportation to access health care, or parents or loved ones who are trustworthy,d dependable and nurturing,' she said.  Many "ordinary" people don't understand the herculean effort it tasks for some of our students to just make it to the school door every day, and they sure don't understand the extraordinary personal and professional efforts of our teachers, counselors, administrators, resource officers and other school personnel to meet the needs of our most at-risk you,'    June 1, 2013, Ashville's Citizen's Times by Barbara Blake

  • Cyberbullying:  A New Long-Term Challenge   (Social Work Professor In the News)  “Walk away.”   For decades, kids suffering abuse from school bullies have gotten this advice from grown-ups.    But there is, unfortunately, no walking away from today’s “cyberbullies.”  Jonathan Singer, a professor of social work at Temple University in Philadelphia, and the host of the Social Work Podcast, says that many grown-ups and kids alike are puzzled over what to do about cyberbullying.   Some apps and strategies are discussed including a new phone app called Snapchat, with which users can send photos or messages and then have them self-delete as soon as the recipient views them.   (Editor's note:  Get more info before downloading.  Go to your privacy settings and make sure only your friends can snap you.)  Check out the other resources he suggests.

  • Prevention of Bullying in Schools, Colleges and Universities (79 pages) "Bullying" or "victimization"? A new primer on bullying was released at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, the USA's largest education research organization. Dr. Ron Astor, University of Southern California (one of this year's conference presenters) and Dr. Dorothy Espelage, University of Illinois co-chaired the AERA's National Task Force on Bullying. The association commissioned the research last year in the wake of several high-profile bullying cases and school shootings to prepare and present practical short-term and long-term recommendations to address bullying of children and youth. See USA Today for brief piece. May, 2013

  • 487 & 488: Harper High School.  This American Life by WBEZ spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. WBEZ went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances. We found so many incredible and surprising stories.  Two School Social Workers were highlighted in both productions #1 and #2 who represented us well.   

  • Common Core Standards Will Benefit At-Risk Students  As part of the school team, school social workers share the goal of ensuring that all students receive a high-quality education. We work with students and their families to address personal, family, and societal issues that create obstacles for learning. The adoption of the Common Core State Standards will create a strong foundation for school social workers in our mission to improve academic and behavioral outcomes for all students.  January, 2013 by Elizabeth Pfiffner who is a practicing school social worker in the Mead School District in Spokane, Wash.

  • In response: School mental-health needs are best addressed by local experts   By: Tammie Knick, Minnesota School Social Workers Assocation (MSSWA) for the News Tribune    "The MSSWA concurs with U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s approach of recognizing and addressing the need for additional support staff in schools to take on children’s mental-health needs. A News Tribune “Our View” editorial on the proposal from Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, was published Jan. 11 under the headline, “More counseling, yes, but who’ll pay?”  Best practice supports a multidisciplinary approach to address students’ mental-health needs, with a team comprised of a variety of specialized instructional support personnel who have different backgrounds, training and skill sets. For example, school social workers are dually licensed by the Board of Social Work and the Board of Education. As the vital link between home, school and community, school social workers have unique training and knowledge about mental health to address the emotional needs of children. And they can use evidence-based interventions when providing individual and group counseling, evaluation and assessment, crisis prevention and response, conflict resolution, and social-emotional learning opportunities."   Read more.  News Tribune, January 29, 2013



Anoka-Hennepin to try out new ways to curb fighting in school     "Long suspensions might be aggravating the problem in Anoka-Hennepin schools.  The Anoka-Hennepin School District is revising the way it disciplines students for fighting, aiming to rein in what can be an escalating cycle of fighting and punishment.  One of the most important factors of getting an education is being in school."  Starting in the fall, principals have been instructed to start with a five-day suspension and add days, if necessary, for aggravating factors, such as if a student clearly is the aggressor or instigator or if there is a record of bullying or harassment. Then, when students return, they'll work with school social workers or other support staff to identify and change the behaviors that got them there in the first place. Parents are encouraged to be part of the readmission process. Read more.    by MARIA ELENA BACA, Minnesota School Social Workers Association in the Star Tribune, May 26, 2012

  • "50 Heroes of Justice"  honored by the University of Maryland including Michelle Alvarez, SSWAA President and Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) April, 2012

  • Providing Safe Environments for Gay Students  December, 2012  Doug Spohn, National Association of Secondary School Principals

  • Newtown Shooting: Advice to Parents to Help Kids Cope   December, 2012  Audrey Cummings

  • CARE Youth Project in Escondido Showing Promising Results.  November, 2012  Kimberly Israel

  • School-Based Program for Teen Mothers.  April, 2012

  • Keeping Teen Moms in School — A School Social Work Challenge  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  one in 10 new mothers is a teenager and fewer than four in 10 (38%) teen girls who have a child before they turn 18 earn their high school diploma.  ."Diverse staff at dedicated school programs for teen mothers provide opportunities for these students to engage with positive role models and mentoring opportunities. Generally, staff include not only academic and resource/support teachers but also counselors, social workers, and nurses, all focused on preventing teen mothers from dropping out of school. The school social worker coordinates interactions with the various staff members and services, processes new student intakes, and collaborates on individualized learning plans to address academic, health, emotional, and career goals.   March/April 2012 By Jennifer Van Pelt,      Read more.    By by Jennifer Pelt  in Social Work Today Vol. 12 No. 2 P. 24   March/April 2012

  • School Social Worker Doug Spohn receives award.  February, 2012

  • Anoka-Hennepin adds social worker positions at middle and high schools    "To better ensure students receive support and services available to them, the Anoka-Hennepin School District is adding social worker positions at its middle and high schools in the 2012-13 school year." "Four social workers and one therapist will be hired."   "Jinger Gustafson, associate superintendent of middle schools, said a variety of support staff, including counselors, school psychologists and administrators, now work to meet the needs of a social worker role. In a time where students and families consider schools to be a community hub of support, the new positions will provide students and families with connections to resources for food, shelter, and mental health services,"    North Metro TV, Minnesota  Summer 2012




P.O. Box 3068  

London, KY 40743

Our Mission

The School Social Work Association of America empowers school social workers and promotes the profession to enhance the social and emotional growth and academic outcomes of all students nationally and globally.

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