Social workers fill gap for schools
Sometimes a gamble pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.
When Lehighton Area School District officials kicked the tires on adding a social worker to its staff, it was one of the first in the area to do so.
The district hired Kerri Miller before the 2017-18 school year in the newly minted social worker/transition coordinator position, an investment that paid such high dividends, it budgeted for a second such position beginning in 2018-19 and landed Carrie Kenny.
“We often talk about educating the whole child and hitting that hidden curriculum,” Lehighton Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said during a board meeting Monday night.
“Our two social workers are extremely valuable to our students and families because they offer assistance in so many areas, from crisis intervention to our mental health curriculum and awareness. Education is more than just science and math and language arts and those things you see on the surface. We’re fortunate to be able to fund these positions and have Kerri and Carrie as part of our team.”
The duo spoke Monday about their roles in the district and the bridge they provide between the school and the community.
When there are student attendance problems, Miller said, they are on the front lines with home visits trying to get to the root of the issue.
“This is one of the most common things we do,” she said. ”If a teacher is having a hard time getting ahold of a family, it’s easier for us to call or go out and check on things to see what needs to be done to get that student in school and back on track.”
The job also includes check-ins and counseling services for students who may be at risk of self-harm or have other concerns.
“Sometimes they are just having a bad day and need someone to talk to,” Kenny said.
Also among the laundry list of duties are staff trainings, helping oversee the Aevidum clubs in the middle school and high school, working with students who have been deemed homeless and transition coordination services.
“The transition coordinator component involved working with those 14 years of age or older who really need help getting their foot in the door as far as employment and what life after school looks like for them,” Kenny said.
Looking back on establishing the positions, board President Larry Stern called it a great investment for the district and the community.
“Bridging the gaps that they do is one of the most important things done here in the district,” Stern said. “A lot of times, children need help more than just between the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Often, coming to school is the most stability a child has during the day, so what these ladies do to help them is incredible.”