Spring­dale schools eye so­cial work­ers

District pro­grams help those in need of ser­vices

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BRENDA BERNET

SPRING­DALE — On any given school day, a child will need cloth­ing, shoes or a coat.

Oth­ers will need eye ex­ams, medicine or to see a doc­tor.

The Spring­dale School District has a va­ri­ety of pro­grams to help with those needs. School of­fi­cials con­nect fam­i­lies with or­ga­ni­za­tions to as­sist with food, some schools of­fer classes for par­ents, a so­cial ser­vices of­fice helps with cloth­ing and med­i­cal needs, and sum­mer mo­bile li­braries keep stu­dents in con­tact with teach­ers.

Hir­ing so­cial work­ers would pro­vide an­other layer of sup­port in a school district where 71 per­cent of the 21,527 stu­dents in 2016-17 were from low-in­come fam­i­lies, said Me­gan Slocum, as­so­ciate su­per­in­ten­dent of cur­ricu­lum and in­struc­tion.

It’s an idea district lead­ers will spend this com­ing school year study­ing, Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent Jared Cleve­land told the School Board at a July work­shop.

The needs of fam­i­lies pull prin­ci­pals away from their cam­puses for home vis­its, Cleve­land said.

“One big ask is to have ad­di­tional help,” Cleve­land said.

Nearly 70 li­censed so­cial work­ers worked in schools across the state dur­ing the 2016-17 school year, ac­cord­ing to records from the Arkansas Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. The Rogers School

District em­ployed the most, with seven on staff.

Rogers pays their salaries with state money the district gets for stu­dents in poverty and for stu­dents in an al­ter­na­tive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment, spokes­woman Ash­ley Si­wiec said. Their salaries to­taled $379,410 in the 2016-17 school year.

Other school dis­tricts in North­west Arkansas with li­censed so­cial work­ers on staff are Ben­tonville, Fayet­teville and Pea Ridge.

The dis­cus­sion in Spring­dale re­flects the changes in the district’s de­mo­graph­ics, J.O. Kelly Prin­ci­pal Sara Ford said. She has worked in the district 28 years and con­tin­u­ously for the past 23 years, she said.

“Our num­ber of kids who re­ceive free and re­duced-price lunches has in­creased,” she said. “Our num­ber of fam­i­lies who are English lan­guage learn­ers has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing that time. With that comes just ad­di­tional needed sup­port for fam­i­lies as they move into the com­mu­nity, as they ac­cli­mate into our com­mu­nity and learn about the re­sources that are here.”

The cam­pus after-school pro­gram serves 150 stu­dents who stay at school from 3:15 to 5:45 p.m. each day, Ford said. A fed­eral grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s 21st Cen­tury Com­mu­nity Learn­ing Cen­ters pro­gram pays for the ser­vices.

“A lot of our par­ents work from the 3-11 [p.m.] shift,” Ford said. “It just pro­vides kids a great place to be that’s pos­i­tive so they can be in­volved in pos­i­tive ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Ford has made some home vis­its. Her staff has pur­chased ath­letic shoes for stu­dents and cheer­lead­ing uni­forms. One stu­dent qual­i­fied to at­tend a camp for stu­dents who par­tic­i­pated in the Duke Univer­sity Tal­ent Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Pro­gram but couldn’t af­ford the cost. The teach­ers paid for her to go.

“They re­ally don’t ask,” Ford said. “That’s the beauty of our kids. They do not ask. I am not aware of one kid ask­ing. Our staff just looks around and sees the need.”

Prin­ci­pals have dis­cussed hav­ing so­cial work­ers in the district for sev­eral years, she said. J.O. Kelly, a sixth- and sev­enth-grade cam­pus where stu­dents range from 11 to 13 years old, has a long list of re­sources and part­ners for as­sist­ing fam­i­lies.

Re­spond­ing to the va­ri­ety of needs of chil­dren and fam­i­lies en­hances a child’s abil­ity to learn at school, Ford said.

“Now we’re the ones who do the leg­work,” Ford said. “We love do­ing it. There’s also plenty of other things we need to do.”

The district has a so­cial ser­vices of­fice that is part of its nurs­ing of­fice, Ford said.

When calls come from school nurses, prin­ci­pals or coun­selors as they do most school days, the district’s so­cial ser­vices as­sis­tant Bev­erly Charleton will re­spond. She works within the district’s nurs­ing of­fice.

In 2016-17, Spring­dale School District spent $35,000 on so­cial ser­vices, said Kathy Laun­der, the district’s nurs­ing su­per­vi­sor.

Charleton will fol­low up with par­ents to de­ter­mine whether, for ex­am­ple, a child is wear­ing a pair of shoes with holes be­cause the fam­ily can’t af­ford new shoes or be­cause he grabbed an old pair from the back of his closet.

Charleton co­or­di­nates pro­vid­ing school sup­plies to stu­dents who need help at the be­gin­ning of the school year. The so­cial ser­vices of­fice doesn’t have ev­ery­thing on the school sup­ply list but can pro­vide items such as pen­cils, pa­per, rulers, glue and fold­ers.

Food drives in schools

and do­na­tions from the com­mu­nity pro­vide canned and boxed non­per­ish­able foods that go into a district food pantry, Charleton said. The of­fice also re­ceives do­na­tions for coats and cloth­ing. The of­fice is not able to as­sist fam­i­lies with money for rent or util­i­ties.

All items are dis­trib­uted as needs arise, Charleton said.

“If I get a call, if I have what they need, I can get it to­gether and take it to who­ever asks me for it,” she said, whether it’s a call from HarBer High School on the west side of the district or Sonora Mid­dle School on the east side of the district.

“Ev­ery­body in our district wants to help all the kids we can,” Charleton said. “We can’t do a lot, but we do a lit­tle.”

Prin­ci­pals, in­struc­tional spe­cial­ists, coun­selors, teach­ers and cur­ricu­lum spe­cial­ists will make home vis­its when the need arises, Slocum said. So­cial work­ers,

how­ever, have more ex­per­tise in how to help and com­mu­ni­cate with fam­i­lies in a va­ri­ety of cir­cum­stances.

“We want to help,” she said. “We’re here to help.”

The con­cept is wor­thy of dis­cus­sion and study in Spring­dale as a way to bet­ter sup­port the com­mu­nity, she said. The dis­cus­sions will ex­plore whether the ad­di­tion of so­cial work­ers is right for Spring­dale and then what the job de­scrip­tion would in­clude, Slocum said. Other de­tails would in­clude salary, the re­cruit­ment and hir­ing process, and mak­ing sure there is sup­port from the School Board.

The district also would seek grants and po­ten­tial part­ners, she said.

“Prin­ci­pals at first in Spring­dale seem to be very re­cep­tive to any type of po­si­tion of help that could come in,” Slocum said.

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