This is National Social Work Month, and CCSD has four full-time social workers who assist the families of our 42,000 students in overcoming challenges that might affect their education. Our social workers strive daily to connect families with community resources and provide interventions to address situations like homelessness, hunger, truancy, drug abuse, neglect and other challenges. Last year, CCSD’s three social workers made 793 home visits; handled more than 800 cases; made 1,500 parent contacts and provided assistance to 146 homeless students. This year, with the addition of a fourth member to the social worker team, they are on a pace to work 1,000 referrals and serve more than 230 homeless students. In addition, they also do a lot of work with families to avoid an official referral, sometimes spending significant time finding solutions for problems so that a referral is no longer necessary.
Learn more about our school social workers at http://cherokeek12.net/divisions/school-operations/school-social-workers/.
CCSD School Social Workers are Perry Marshall, Cherokee zone; David McFerrin, Creekview and Sequoyah zones; Dr. Tara Quinn-Schuldt, Etowah zone; and Marcie Firebaugh, River Ridge and Woodstock zones. They share more about their unique yet critical job in our schools below:
What led you to this field?
I had an amazing sociology teacher in 10th grade that changed the game for me. Ms. Davis changed my outlook on my role in the community and how I could apply my empathy to help others. I genuinely enjoy helping others and being of service. All we really want as people is to be heard and understood. That’s a difficult thing to do (present company included), to listen without judgment and to meet someone where they are in whatever season of their life that I encounter them. But I like to get my hands dirty, I like how every day is different, every day brings a new challenge or lesson, and every day is humbling. --Marcie
During my years of teaching, I always enjoyed working with students who were at risk and struggling. I empathized with them because I understood some of the barriers they faced in getting a quality education. I was the first person in my family ever to earn a college degree. I will never forget my father’s reaction when I told him I wanted to go to college. The first words out of his mouth were “How do you expect to pay for it?” Some students do not see a path to college or technical school due to poverty, family issues, etc., especially when they don’t have someone to guide them in that direction. When an opportunity to work with at-risk families came available, I jumped at the opportunity and went back to school to get my certification in school social work. That was 28 years ago, and I have never looked back. Sometimes the work is heartbreaking, but it is also very rewarding. –Perry
I’ve always enjoyed hearing people talk about their dreams and goals and helping them find ways to reach them. Education is a critical component for children being able to build the life they want. Being a school social worker gives me an opportunity to help students and their families solve the problems and remove the barriers which stand in their way to getting a good education. — David
I think I was drawn to this field because my parents were community helpers, my father a fire fighter and my mother worked for the Department of Family and Children Services. They really set the example for me on how we can help our fellow community members. I also knew I wanted to work with children and school is where the kids are! –Tara
What would surprise most people about your job?
Most people think my job is sad and depressing, but I find it hopeful and optimistic. I’m constantly surprised by and impressed with people’s resiliency and ability to thrive in the face of horrible circumstances. I work with people whom I consider to be quite heroic every day, but you’ll never hear them on the radio or see them on TV. –David
Some people would be surprised to learn that during home visits, most families are very cordial and open to discussing issues they face. Occasionally, I may run across a hostile parent, but most of the time these families are just looking for answers and trying to do the best they can. Some may be hesitant to change habits that have been ingrained over several generations, but they listen, and sometimes are willing to step outside their comfort zone and try something new. –Perry
What is your “typical” day like?
One thing I like about this job is that there really is no typical day. When you spend time visiting with families, you never know the story you or going to hear and what obstacles they need to overcome. I spend a lot of time visiting with families, looking for resources, attending parent/student conferences, conferencing with teachers or administrators, preparing petitions for court or DFCS, facilitating our truancy panel collaborative, investigating situations involving homelessness, etc. A typical day is sometimes overwhelming, but never boring. -Perry
I always say, I typically have a plan for the day, but those plans must be flexible as I may get an emergent situation or a request for home visit that must be made immediately. My day can consist of home visits, school meetings, local agency contacts and visits, meetings with children and/or a visit to the Juvenile Court. Typically, I fly by the seat of my pants and juggle all the way! –Tara
What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
For me the biggest challenges are those situations in which I have tried everything I can think of to help and improve a situation, my toolbox is empty and nothing has worked. I am able to refer these families for additional services but I just can’t fix everything and unfortunately have no magic wand! It is easy to be told, “Hey you can’t fix everything,” but that reality can be hard to swallow when you are working with children. I have to try and remember that “something is better than nothing” and to just keep trying to help one step at a time. –Tara
What do you most want parents to know/understand about your role?
I am first and foremost a helper. I want to assist in finding solutions, resources, and a support for families who are struggling. I like to be considered a part of their village because often times by the time a family gets to me, they could use a little bit of a village around them. But, also, I’m going to hold these families responsible for making appropriate and healthy decisions once those resources are available to them. I’m here to help, but I’m also here to follow through. --Marcie
Often parents equate a school social worker with DFCS. We are not DFCS. We are not here to judge you and we certainly don’t want to damage you or your family in any way. We are here as a resource to help you and your family remove barriers to your child’s education. — David
I would like parents to understand that my role is to help them so that their child can have a successful school experience! — Tara