Today, we hear from alumna, Dana Johnson MSW ’17, School Social Worker at Buckfield, Maine Jr./Sr. High School:
Life as a School Social Worker:
I currently hold an LMSW-CC in the state of Maine, and am receiving supervision (96 hours= two years of direct supervision) through a local LCSW to be able to sit for the LCSW exam. I am a graduate of UNE’s School of Social Work Online program, graduating with my Masters in Social Work in 2017. I have past experience working in early childhood settings, social services, and intensive home-visiting programs.
My position requires me to work very closely with the Special Education Department, teachers, ed techs as well as admin in the school building. I serve both Special Education and General Education students in the building. I attend IEP and 504 meetings for the students that I serve that have identified Social Work services as a goal. I update IEP goals for the students on my caseload throughout the school year. My role requires me to advocate for mental health awareness, education and resources in our school. I often collaborate with outside agencies and communicate with teachers and families on a daily basis.
My duties include safety planning, mandated reporting, crisis management, suicide risk assessments and prevention, observations and assessments in the school setting, and mandated social work services for students on my caseload. I offer both individual and group sessions as well as lunch groups for all students. I am a member of the Emergency Planning and Response Team for the school district and attend PBIS meetings at the middle and high school level. I also have located in my school office a Community Closet for students from Buckfield Jr. Sr. High School that may be in need of clothing, winter jackets, school supplies and/or toiletry items. Staff will donate to this closet and this has been very successful, with many items being distributed to local families within our school community.
My work with students includes focusing on social skills and social-emotional learning, self-regulation and calming strategies, as well as reflection techniques. I encourage weekly check-ins and therapeutic activities for students. My favorite tools for social work sessions are social skills workbooks and board games, sand trays, emoji feelings check-ins, card games drawing and journaling and other sensory-based activities. The pandemic has made utilizing some of these tools a challenge as we cannot share game cards or boards in-person, I will also turn to online games through virtual sessions with students such as an online version of Connect 4. I encourage my students and their families to have a positive mindset and believe building a strong and healthy rapport with students and families promotes successful growth and a positive working relationship. Working in a team environment is very important to me. I am open-minded, flexible, and enjoy working with others.
How are you using what you learned at UNE in your current practice?
As an alumni of UNE’s School of Social Work, I have gained knowledge around ethical social work practice, and advocating for both students and families here at BJSHS. It’s helped me connect our school to outside resources and advocate for mental health awareness in our school.
What did you find most inspiring about your education at UNE?
The online classroom communities were so positive and supportive of each other’s education. I’ve always felt supported by the UNE staff/faculty.
Is there anything you’ve been surprised by in entering the Field of Social Work?
I’ve been surprised by the array of career paths a social worker can pursue- from geriatrics to hospice, school social work, community outreach, medical social work, child protective services and more!
Visit NASW’s page HERE to learn more about Social Work Careers
How has COVID19 Impacted your work?
Covid precautions have put up a barrier between my students and I. Even though we try our best to stay connected, social distancing can make building relationships/rapport challenging. Especially when working with adolescents and young adults.
Check out THIS BLOG POST about managing stress and cultivating emotional resiliency through COVID19
If you could share advice to incoming MSW students, what would it be?
Do not be afraid to meet new people, make connections with other professionals, and observe!