School social workers play a critical role in creating a positive climate in our schools and developing partnerships between a student’s home, school and community. Atlanta Public Schools joins the School Social Work Association of America, March 2-6, in honoring those committed to empowering and assisting families.
There are 30 full-time social workers employed with APS, including one dedicated to our Homeless Education Program and another who works at the APS Truancy Center. APS also works with three contract social workers and two hourly social workers to make sure we meet the needs of our students.
While the primary role of the school social worker is to ensure that children are provided with an environment that is conducive to learning, Denise Revels, APS Coordinator of Social Work Services, tells me the responsibilities include much more.
“Particularly, we are charged with addressing and removing barriers to education. Barriers are complex and multi-layered and range from child abuse and suicidal ideation to lack of stable housing or appropriate clothing for school. School social workers are intricately interwoven into the fabric of every school as they meet the daily needs of children both inside and outside the walls of the school,” she said.
I would like for you to meet a few of our APS social workers that help students receive the most from their educational opportunities. I am proud of the work they are doing in the district and look forward to supporting their work so that APS can meet the needs of all of its students.
Elesha Williams serves D. H. Stanton and Gideons Elementary schools as well as Price Middle School. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work from Clark Atlanta University. She began her first job as a social worker with APS after graduation, 17 years ago. Ms. Williams decided on school social work as a career after an internship in the field. Her greatest memory as a social worker was the 2012 high school graduation of four at-risk students. “I met each of them during their freshman year, and they were each dealing with critical issues such as: homelessness, child abuse, abandonment, and teen pregnancy. Each year, they didn’t think they could make it to graduation, but each year they persevered. Through parent conferences, counseling, weekly and monthly school social work interventions, all four of them proudly graduated from high school, two went on to college, while the other two were gainfully employed,” she says. “Through that experience, I had an opportunity to see the difference that can be made through school social work services. I often think of these students, and I am fortunate to receive updates throughout the year from one of my students, which is a constant reminder of how our work makes a lasting difference with the students we serve“.
Chamika Allen is the Homeless Education Social Worker for the district. She’s been a social worker since 2005 and an APS employee since 2010. Ms. Allen received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Spelman College and her Master’s in Social Work from Clark Atlanta University. The ability to help others is what Ms. Allen enjoys most about her role. “I believe that there is good in everyone and in every situation – sometimes we just have to help people find the positive. Helping people find the tools to heal, help, and hope fulfills me and encourages me to keep serving. When I see those that I have helped pushing forward and serving others, it lets me know that lives will be touched for a lifetime,” she says.
Venecia R. Foster has been a social worker 17 years. This is her fifth year working as a school social worker in APS. She serves students at North Atlanta High and Garden Hills Elementary schools She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Work at Florida State University. There are many things about being a school social worker that Ms. Foster enjoys but ultimately she enjoys serving others. “I am most proud when I’m able to assist my students and their families by providing them with hope during a time when they feel hopeless,” said Foster. “As far as what has motivated me to remain in the profession for all of this time, it’s honestly being able to help others. I grew up volunteering at homeless shelters and feeding those who were hungry. Service has always been a part of my life. It’s an added bonus to be able to come to work and do what I love every day”.
Emerson Jones has worked as a school social worker for 26 years. He’s been at APS for 20 years and works with students at Dunbar, Thomasville Heights and Toomer Elementary Schools. Mr. Jones earned his Bachelor’s in Social Work from Southeast Missouri State University and his Master’s in Social Work from Atlanta University. Mr. Jones most enjoys helping children and families become better able to help themselves. One experience, in particular, helped him realize the impact of his work. “I had a student several years ago come up to me while having my car serviced. He asked me if I remembered him, and I didn’t. He told me that he had attended one of our high schools. He added that I had spoken with him, and what I said helped him to change his life. He said that he was married now with several kids and working. That made me feel good about being a social worker,” Jones recalled.
There will be a luncheon March 16 to honor all APS social workers for the essential role they play in student success. Please join me in thanking all of our school social workers for their dedication to students and schools.