Our School Social Workers and Prevention Counselors play a pivotal role in promoting and supporting our students’ academic and social success district-wide. These mental health professionals, who all possess social work credentials, are an important link between home, school and community and provide direct services and referrals to help students manage stress and meet basic needs, such as food, housing and healthcare.
“Our work starts with building relationships and keeping communication channels open. With our students, if communication is taking a walk and talking about life, we take a walk together. If it’s about opening up while doing art, I’ll get down on the floor and we’ll draw together,” says South Orangetown Middle School Prevention Counselor Bobbie-Angela Wong. “With families, I try to provide support and communicate however I can. Some parents don’t have time to talk on the phone or engage in long email conversations, so I’ll give them my Google Voice number so that we can text. I’m not the best Spanish speaker, but I will reach out to Spanish-speaking families and do my best to connect. Communication is the foundation of counseling and that’s what I do.”
School Social Worker Jessica Inglis splits her time between William O. Schaefer Elementary School and Cottage Lane Elementary School where she serves students in grades K-5. “During this pandemic, I’ve been responsible for providing students and their families with access to resources, mental health supports and trauma-informed care. We began this school year by helping to support students and families with transitioning back to school and identifying barriers to everything from access to technology to promoting student engagement and social emotional support,” Inglis reports. “At the elementary level, it has been important to explore how we can support our students and families in thoughtful, creative ways. As a school social worker, pandemic or not, it’s important that I wear many hats and connect with students and families in a way that allows them to feel heard and seen and validates their experiences.”
Through running groups, publishing a new monthly newsletter, updating the virtual Wellness Center and offering 1:1 counseling, Tappan Zee High School Prevention Counselor Ponnu Varghese-John focuses on student mental health. “We talk about mental health a lot, but often what’s missing is the actionable part–the small changes we can make to improve our overall health and well being. That’s what I do: I help students get started with taking charge of their own mental health,” she says. “I’m usually the first person on our team to tag in when a teacher expresses a concern or when a student needs support right away. The pandemic has made it easier to talk about mental health because so many people have struggled over the past year. It’s helped to destigmatize accessing support and how we talk about it. My goal here is to decrease stigma.”
“We have been challenged more than ever this year to think about ALL of our students’ needs–academic, social emotional, family stressors, mental health, isolation and basic needs–all at once, all the time,” reflects School Social Worker Jessenia Cursio, who works with students in grades 6-12 at South Orangetown Middle School and Tappan Zee High School. “But I’m grateful to work in a supportive school district. When a need is identified, we’ve done our best to support our students and families by providing technology, access to our food pantry or working to overcome language barriers. School social workers are the connectors; we work collaboratively to problem-solve with colleagues and community partners to problem-solve across all these domains.”
Thank you to all of our school social workers and prevention counselors for their dedication to our students!