Springdale schools eye social workers
District programs help those in need of services
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.