I have found Friendship to be a very good school and very welcoming. Our team works together, and we support each other in amazing ways.
Can you talk a bit about your journey to working at Friendship Chamberlain as a clinical social worker?
Prior to working at Chamberlain, I still worked in this neighborhood. I worked at an all-girls public charter school called Excel Academy. Also, prior to that, I worked at a community outreach center. So I am very familiar with this community. When I heard about Friendship Public Charter School, I applied for an open position. It’s been interesting to see some of my previous students from other schools here now. I have always been drawn to communities where there is a need. As a social worker, that is where I would like to be.
I have found Friendship to be a very good school and very welcoming. Our team works together, and we support each other in amazing ways. This is a new experience for me, especially in a large organization. It’s truly like a family environment.
As a social worker, what strategies do you find help our scholars the most?
It’s important to have an unconditional regard for them, a relationship where there’s no judgement and they are accepted for who they are. When I cultivate this relationship, I find that I don’t have to ask questions, pry, or do many of the things that a therapist traditionally does. When you have a relationship, the child will begin to let you know what their world is like, but you have to join them in their world without prejudice or judgement. They’ll let you know what’s going on in their world. Once you know that, you’ll be better equipped to assist.
Are there any strategies you’ve seen teachers use to be more empathetic with their students?
Yes, and a lot of it also has to do with having a relationship with parents, too. You can get a better idea of what that child’s environment is like outside of school and what challenges she or he may be facing. After both the child and the parent realize that there’s genuine concern – not just about academic growth, but about the whole person – it makes a big difference. It’s difficult to work with someone if there isn’t a level of trust. It’s important that students trust teachers to have their best interests in mind and that they’re not going to be judged. My job is to help remove any obstacles that might interfere with a child’s learning. It could be transportation, a lack of community resources, childcare, or a need for mental health resources. Those things will affect a child’s ability to concentrate, and retain and recall information.
A number of children experience what we call “complex trauma,” which is the result of experiencing or witnessing repeated traumatic incidents. Sometimes it’s just the environment they have to walk through to get to school; it may put a child in a constant state of hyperarousal, which affects their ability to learn. That’s where I come in – to support students and families directly, or connect them with outside resources.
What advice would you offer teachers and school staff to most effectively support students who are experiencing trauma or other challenges?
Approach students in a way that is nonjudgmental. That is very important. Be mindful when discussing students around the school. It is so easy sometimes for teachers to talk about students with other teachers, even when they’re standing in the hallway. Kids will know this. They hear when they’re walking by. They’ll be curious, stop, and listen carefully.
Being non-judgemental, keeping confidences, expressing genuine concern and empathy are all ways you can build trust and be more effective.
Are there any books or curricula you would recommend as useful?
There are books I’ve given to teachers on grief and loss during childhood. These issues are extremely important to pay attention to. A lot of our kids experience grief and loss at a very early age. At some point in the year, it’s important for teachers to have a discussion about grief and loss. Even go over the stages of grief and what they look like. I can’t overemphasize the importance a multidisciplinary team. The counselor, teachers, and deans work together to come up with a joint strategy to manage whatever challenges arise, whether they’re behavioral or academic. You can teach the best curriculum and have the best teacher in the world, but if we don’t address social and emotional issues, neither of those is going to work. It’s important to remember that the emotional well-being of a child is crucial for them to be academically successful.
Is there a fun fact you’d like to share?
Well, the favorite place that I’ve been to is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also, I’m French Creole, and I love cooking. I think I cook very well.