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What Makes a School Social Worker: Compassion and Truths

Banner displaying blog title "What Makes a School Social Worker: Compassion and Truths".

March is full of several important celebrations; from Women’s History Month to Disability Awareness Month, there are many notable topics that need our awareness. Another noteworthy one is National Social Work Month. Social Workers touch many lives and make a significant impact throughout their careers; however, their jobs entail much more than what we may initially think. We want to take the time to honor and recognize their vital work by highlighting three of our own social workers here at the ESC. 

Missy Zimmerman and Carine Milord are both Social Workers who work at our two alternative education programs; Ventures Academy and Ventures II, respectively. Amber Nickels, MSW, LISW-S, CTP-C, is a Mental Health Specialist who works with the ESC and Bexley City School District. We are so thankful they were able to take the time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions with the excitement of not only raising awareness for their profession but also being able to express to others how passionate they are about their work.

Missy has been in her career for 34 years, with 22 of those being here at the ESC. When asked about what led her down this career path, she explained:

“I felt so fortunate to have the childhood I had, that I wanted to do all I could to help children and their families have hope and joy as well. My mom was a social worker. My daughter is currently in college studying to be a social worker too. I guess it runs in our family.”

Zimmerman also shared a story that helps paint a picture of why she is so passionate about her work:

“Years ago at Ventures Academy, I worked with an elementary student who had endured years of abuse and neglect. So much so, that he would threaten violence if anyone gave him a compliment. This student felt so poorly about himself that he didn't trust anyone who tried to say nice things to him. Through the team that worked with him (myself, his teachers, and our art therapist, Kim Roberts) we were able to show this young boy that we believed he had worth as a human being.

He improved his self-concept by improving his self-control of his emotions and gaining academic skills. I remember the first time he said something positive about himself, I got chills and almost cried because I knew he was starting to see himself in the way we were seeing him. He was able to successfully return to his home school for the next school year. Years later, a teacher shared with our school that this student had continued to succeed academically and was playing baseball for his middle school.

My wish is that I can be a part of planting seeds of hope in young people to live their lives in a way that helps them to see what talents and gifts they have within themselves.”
Pull quote: "My wish is that I can be a part of planting seeds of hope in young people to live their lives in a 	way that helps them to see what talents and gifts they have within themselves".
Carine joined the team in 2020 and has 10 years of experience in social work. Her childhood was also a driving factor for choosing this line of work:

“Growing up my family and I faced many challenges that came with being immigrants (change of environment, new language and societal expectations). My school at the time made a referral to social services in order for us to receive additional support. My family and I were skeptical due to how social workers were perceived at the time. However, the social worker that was assigned to us was the complete opposite of what we were expecting. I still remember her to this day. She embodied what it meant to be a social worker, which is to have empathy (walk in your client’s shoes). She went above and beyond for us, and I will forever be thankful for her support. She was the person that influenced my decision to become a social worker. 

I want to have a positive impact and make a difference in my client’s lives just as she did for us.”
Pull quote: "I want to have a positive impact and make a difference in my client’s lives just as she did for us.”
One of Milord’s most memorable moments was when she was able to see the progress and positive change in a student over time:

“I worked with a student who had been at our school since 8th grade. One of the activities they completed was to ‘write a letter to our future selves.’ I made a copy of the letter to keep. Whenever this student had difficulty at school, we would revisit the letter as a reminder to stick to our goals. Fast forward to now, this student is expected to graduate this year. It's amazing to see how much they had grown since writing the letter. It's very rewarding to hear the student reflect and share with me that the letter was and is one of their biggest motivators to finish school and meet their goals.”
Amber has 35 years of experience in social work and has also been with the ESC since 1991 Her passion to help others has been a driving force in why she loves her career so much:

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to not only be a counselor, but also be an advocate for those who have not yet found their voice. The primary goal of social work is to help people in need in conjunction with addressing social problems and promoting social justice. I am extremely fortunate to be able to not only do what I love everyday but also be part of something that I value and believe in deeply.

It is a privilege to work with students, and it is an incredible feeling when they let you into their world. My favorite part is building relationships with them and watching them grow and flourish within a school environment where they feel safe and valued.”
Pull quote: "It is a privilege to work with students, and it is an incredible feeling when they let you into their world."
When we first met with Nickels to discuss ideas for National Social Work Month, she was so delighted to talk about her world and all of the positive work that goes on in it. However, Amber also shared that there was, and still is, a battle against the misconceptions of a Social Worker’s job scope:

“Many things have changed since I first began my profession as a social worker, including the acceptance of mental health services and an increased presence of social workers in schools. A friend and colleague once gave me a sweatshirt that says, "Mental Health is Health". Social workers have been instrumental in both removing the stigma of mental health as well as providing critically needed mental health services.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the education, training and licensing required to be a practicing social worker. Depending on the social work position, a social worker will not only have a Bachelor’s Degree, but also Master's Degree in social work. They will also have participated in rigorous post-graduate supervision and licensing requirements (that are renewed every two years), including having passed a state board exam. In addition, social workers are guided by a robust code of ethics and are required to have ethics training every two years.”
Both Zimmerman and Milord also discussed how people outside of their line of work sometimes perceive their jobs to be very different than what they actually do.

Missy conveyed, “I think sometimes people only equate social work with Child Protective Services and that we want to take children out of people's homes. That is a stereotype perpetuated on TV and in movies. I believe social workers can work in a variety of fields: schools, hospitals, mental health agencies, senior living centers, and more. Social workers help clients manage the systems they are a part of, figure out how to get their basic needs met, and provide therapy and linkage to other resources if needed. Social workers work on teams that interact with all ages of people who need support and assistance in their life.”

Carine agreed, “The misconceptions that people may have about social workers is that the only thing we do is ‘take people’s children away.’ I wish people knew that there's more to social work. We prioritize the safety of our clients first (regardless of age). Our main goals are to promote safety, autonomy, and provide our clients with the tools/resources they need to overcome any obstacles or challenges they're experiencing.”

We want to thank Missy, Carine, and Amber for everything they do and their lasting impact on their students. 

Do you know a Social Worker? Take the time to thank them for their hard work not only during this month, but also during the other 334 days of the year. Here are three ways you can celebrate National Social Workers Month in March:

  1. Appreciate social workers: Thank your local social workers for their hard work and dedication. Write a thank-you note, send an email or a message on social media, or give them a small gift to show your appreciation.
  2. Spread awareness: Raise awareness about the importance of social work in your community. Share information about social workers' roles and their positive impact on society.
  3. Share your story: If you have received support from a social worker, share your story with others. This can help raise awareness about the important work that social workers do and how they can make a difference in people's lives.