I do not know one person who anticipated the challenges of 2020. Each has his or her struggles, mishaps, and reasons for distress from year to year. An attack on our nation and world at large, COVID 19 proved that we would not remain the same. This virus affected us physically, mentally, and financially. The emergence of COVID-19 awarded numerous professionals a new title. Helping professionals, such as doctors, teachers, nurses, and social workers, quickly became a household name.
Overnight, we became essential workers.
Social work, as an essential profession, is not unimaginable by a long shot. At its core, the essence of social work focuses on improving human conditions for those in need or who are unable to help themselves. Since the 1900’s, social workers have surged forward to assist in times of hardship. Even with this knowledge, I never fancied myself as essential until there was no other choice.
The role of a school social worker varies from state to state and system to system. I provide effective case management services in my daily responsibilities while also serving as a broker to community resources. As I juggle projects aimed to improve school culture and conquer the task of managing unproductive and inappropriate student behaviors (and sometimes teachers too), the duties of parent liaison would often fall in my lap. Others expect social workers to do it all. Yes, this work is essential. Beyond all of that, my primary purpose of removing barriers that prevent academic success never fell to the wayside. This global pandemic essentially set the stage for my calling: preparing students for life.
Whether I wanted to accept it or not, “life” was here on a mission to test the workers. To serve others in their moment of despair was the moment that I’d been waiting for. Co-workers needed encouragement. The students required school supplies. The parents requested assistance in navigating virtual instruction. Some families needed financial support. And others yearned for the basics: food, clothing, and shelter.
My colleagues and I equipped ourselves with the tools required to execute our action plan. As we leaned on each other, we broke down walls and made careful but hopeful steps in the right direction. One may ask, how did we accomplish such a task? The often-overlooked and hidden skill set of “meeting people where they are” rose to the occasion.
Our school-based and district social workers exercised patience and understanding. We shared advice and listened even more. Visiting homes and creating home-based learning plans addressed the imbalance of family, work, and school. We collected, sorted, and distributed backpacks and school supplies. By laughing more than we cried and celebrating more than we complained, we persevered. The study of mindfulness and relaxation grounded us, and we shared that resource with others.
Empowering teachers to do what they do best -teach and encouraging students to do what they do best- learn, paved the way for success. Societal ills will forever plague us, but thankfully, there’s usually a social worker in the midst. Not all essential workers wear scrubs, ties, or hoist defensive weapons. There is usually a hard worker in the background projecting the sunshine’s silhouette in the darkest moments.
That worker is you, and it is I. We are essential at all times. We are the difference that changes the lives of many. Good job, essential worker. As social workers, we did what we knew to do.
We helped, essentially.
Sakia Gable Dixon, LICSW is a school social worker in Alabama.