Social work is one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S., which is well-timed since the demand for mental health support in high schools continues to grow. In this post-pandemic world, teens are experiencing significantly more stress and economic challenges. Learn4Life, a network of 80+ public high schools that offers personalized instruction, has created a robust social worker internship program through partnerships with more than seven colleges and universities throughout the country.
While school counselors support academics, social-emotional health and college or career placement, school social workers help keep students in school by supporting their social-emotional needs through creating a seamless link between the home, school and community.
“Our social worker teams collaborate with counselors to focus on the whole student,” said Lorena Galaviz, director of school counseling. “Their role is to remove all the barriers that prevent the student from coming to school and/or concentrating on their studies, whether that’s helping find childcare services, helping them obtain medical care or acting as a court advocate for justice-involved students.”
Learn4Life’s accredited school social worker team is supported by 40 social worker interns who work at the schools for a year. The internship program is in its sixth year, creating a steady pipeline of new social workers who are hired on in permanent positions.
March is Social Worker Month, honoring the important work these individuals do, and to highlight the opportunities for those seeking a life-affirming career. Currently, only 40 percent of high school students attend a school that has a social worker. But Learn4Life provides a higher ratio of school social workers and counselors than traditional high schools.
“Since we’ve implemented our social work program, our schools have seen fewer disciplinary issues and improvements in student performance and school culture,” said Galaviz.
Learn4Life offers these tips for maximizing the effectiveness of school social workers.
- Break down siloes – The most successful school social workers have a close partnership with the school counselors, school psychologists and teachers. This synergy provides a continuum of care to identify and resolve issues before they cause a student to drop out. Students benefit the most when school staff collaborates.
- Strengthen the link between a student’s academics at school, family life at home and available resources in the community. If a student is hungry, homeless, parenting or facing other obstacles, social workers can connect them to local services available. Likewise, Learn4Life social workers held parent meetings during the pandemic to educate them about renter rights so they could avoid eviction and further upheaval to the family.
- Let social workers influence school culture – The enthusiasm and creativity of social worker interns is inspiring. One Learn4Life intern noticed an influx of Armenian immigrant students who were language-challenged and felt isolated. So, she started a virtual support group during the pandemic where those students could meet, make friends and learn about services available to them.
For more information about Learn4Life’s counselor and social work support, please visit www.learn4life.org/student-parent-resources/.