New staff will help students, families

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Ten county school social workers began their first full school year on the job this month – some in the high schools, others in court or board offices.

Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Ten county school social workers began their first full school year on the job this month – some in the high schools, others in court or board offices.

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They will continue programs from the summer, like anger management counseling or home visits.

They will work closely with school psychologists, truant officers and parents or find extra food and clothing for families.

All will help educators meet one goal – keep children learning, county superintendent Harold Shafer said.

"You have done a fantastic job," Shafer told the social workers, who attended at Monday’s county school board meeting. "We want you to keep going into homes, giving help that’s needed to get kids back in school."

Although hired by the county board in March, social workers work inside each district plus the court on whatever social needs that district’s children have and, already, the numbers show students have been helped, Shafer said.

"We expect to keep seeing grades up, attendance up and unruliness down," he said.

When children’s needs are met, whether it’s through food, clothing, safe living conditions, counseling or another service, then they come to school ready to learn, county board chairman Gerald Love said.

"Take an interest in that kid and pull him up and he will learn," Love said.

Reaching out is the key for Kelly Piepenbrink, who works in the Chesapeake district.

The social workers’ main goal is to make sure students are successful, whether that’s lending a listening ear, finding a way for families to get children to the doctor or finding them extra food, Ms. Piepenbrink said.

"We uncover a lot of things we wish didn’t exist but we’re there to help."

The Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services secured $2 million in state funding earlier this year for the in-school social workers.

Intervention with students by an accredited social worker will give districts an added resource – a way to combat personal problems that might stand in the way of students’ learning, which educators sometimes have limited time to deal with, department director Buddy Martin said. he said.

Sue Adkins agreed, adding that she worked with students this summer on group therapy, study skills and anger management.

And the Dawson-Bryant social worker already has several referrals for intervention, whether at school or at the students’ homes.

Stacey Thacker concentrated on truancy problems and linking families with services in South Point schools this summer.

"There are ups and downs but it’s successful," Ms. Thacker said. "I’m proud of the families because they really stick with me and their child."

Laura Martin helped Fairland High School students take part in a leadership program this summer and will continue social clinics, shot clinics and other services.

She also coordinates services for students and their families, from mental health help to assistance getting Social Security benefits.

"When I couldn’t get to families I tried to find people to get to them."

Tyrone Baskin, who works in the Ironton district, said he heads off issues that would normally take children to court or the group home.

"I consider myself the first line of defense."

And, he helps students on home study work their way back into the classroom or assists families who might need medical cards, he said.

Other social workers – Karen Pearson at St. Joseph, Kiera Albright at Collins Career Center, Wendy Agee at Symmes Valley, Stephanie Vlahos at Rock Hill and Stephanie Walter-Higginbotham at juvenile court – have similar tasks ahead of them, they said.

In the long run, their work will improve student attitudes and improve students’ ability to learn, Shafer said.

The current social worker funding ends June 30, 2001, but there is a good chance the money will continue, he said.

"I think if we can show at the end of the year the significant improvements I know we will have, we won’t have a problem getting funded again."