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CHCCS Salutes and Thanks Our School Social Workers

One of the strengths and priorities within Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is the commitment to providing student support staff at many levels in every elementary, middle and high school. Each school is blessed with a full-time School Social Worker, a luxury few North Carolina districts can claim. The week of March 8-12 is our time to celebrate and honor the 23 School Social Workers who so often serve as the glue within a school community-- and at no time, has this been more evident than since the pandemic began.

Allison Crosetto at Phillips Middle School said, “Being a school social worker in CHCCS is unique to many of our surrounding areas because our district has invested in our profession and recognized the need for a social worker at every school. This means we are able to pour our heart and efforts into our school community while being supported by a wealth of resources. The fund that was started by former interim Superintendent Dr. Causby, and funded by our community, is a great example of how we come together to support our own. I love being a School Social Worker and I feel fortunate to work in this role in CHCCS.”

In an email to the entire team of School Social Workers, Senior Executive Director, Student Services, Dr. Charlos Banks, wrote, “Beyond the impact of the pandemic, you all have been working collectively to provide our students and families with the resources and support to address the barriers to learning. This has been a constant the district can depend on and appreciate from each of you.  The ever growing complexities of COVID -19, school closures, remote learning, and the constant social injustices our students have witnessed this year will make your role in our schools even more crucial as we return to in-person learning." 

ssw's meme Laura Olley at McDougle Elementary School, said, “It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve as a School Social Worker. People often come to me in a vulnerable state, and I appreciate the courage it takes to share struggles and concerns they may be facing. It is fulfilling to be able to provide connections and support for parents and students, and so much fun to get to know our children and see them grow. I am grateful for the opportunity to work among amazing colleagues who are passionate about dismantling racism and disparities in equity that plague our society. Being part of a team and our community keeps me going.”

Betsy Booth at Estes Hills Elementary School, said, “I was a classroom teacher and loved teaching my students but found that I wanted to work more with their families, and that desire led me to school social work. This is my 26th year as a social worker at the same school and one benefit of that long tenure is that I've been privileged enough to work with families for many years.  I've enjoyed watching children grow from kindergarten through graduation and some even return as parents of students at my school.  Those relationships are priceless!”

“This is my 23rd year as a middle school Social Worker in CHCCS,” Lisa DeCesaris at McDougle Middle School said. “The thing I love about my job is that I am always learning and no two days are alike. Even before the pandemic, finding new resources to help kids and families kept our jobs exciting and meaningful. Since last March the role of the social worker as the link between schools, families, and the community has been more important than ever.” 

“I'm not going to lie, there are days when it is exhausting and I just need a good cry, but most days are invigorating, fulfilling, and hopeful,” DeCesaris said. “I am proud and privileged to serve in this role with so many intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated social workers across CHCCS. We lean on and support one another. They are my daily inspiration.”

At Ephesus Elementary School, Marne Meredith, like Booth, DeCesaris and others, has served as a CHCCS School Social Worker for many years. “Being a School Social Worker is my dream job. It combines my love of  education, being in schools and students,  with my love of Social Work, which is about supporting students and families through values like service, social justice, the dignity and worth of people, the importance of human relationships, integrity and competence.  It was a way of being an educator without being a classroom teacher.”

“Working in an elementary school as a School Social Worker really embeds services and supports within a setting where most children spend most of their time,” Meredith said. “I think there's a great opportunity to partner with parents and do some preventative activities with students and families working in an elementary school. I am passionate about closing opportunity gaps and building equity in schools and schools are the setting to do that work. I see the role of the School Social Worker to build bridges between the home, school and community and to help reduce barriers.” 

“In the pandemic it has been fulfilling to get items that families need to them--school supplies and learning materials, books, food, technology, support for childcare, etc. so they can participate in school,” said Meredith. “I find the diversity in public education exciting. I enjoy learning about people across lines of difference (racial, socioeconomic, etc.), and learning about the ways in which we are similar too. The diversity of public schools represents a microcosm of society, and I have hope we can learn to make schools equitable through building relationships with each other and making structural changes.”

At East Chapel Hill High School, Melissa Breaden is one of two Social Workers. “In my School Social Work role, I really enjoy the opportunity to build relationships with so many of our students and parents, learn from them and support them in various ways so that they can alleviate concerns and enhance their well-being,” she said.

Brenda McNeely-Allen also works at East Chapel Hill High School. “I enjoy working in the educational field and I enjoy working with children and becoming a School Social Worker has allowed me to combine both fields,” she said. “Working in a high school gives me the opportunity to work with students on their level and develop relationships  that they may not have with any other staff within the high school. I enjoy hearing about all of the milestones that go along with high school students including prom and graduation. I have also been blessed to see many of my students after they graduate and hear about their lives after they leave high school.” 

April Crider at Carrboro High School said, “I love being a high school Social Worker, it's a time in student's lives when they really start to figure out who they are and who they want to be.  The most fulfilling thing is working with students who are struggling with attendance or motivation and finding that spark of determination, grabbing it and helping them run with it.”

And at Phoenix Academy High School (PAHS), Gloria Sanchez-Lane wears many caps, as all their staff do. “I love being a school social worker -- everyday is different. I get to meet these incredible high schoolers who are always surprising me,” she said. “I'm amazed at the resilience in our students, and their families.  Through the ups and downs of life our PAHS students persevere and work so hard to graduate.  I am so proud of the work my staff puts into learning how to connect, build relationships, and going above and beyond for our students.  It makes me so proud to be able to play a small role in getting them to graduation.  We are a Phoenix Stong Village as one of our parents says.  I love my job and could not imagine anything better.”

In her email to the School Social Workers, Dr. Banks finished by saying, “I want to take this time to express my sincerest gratitude for all that you do for students, staff, families and community. Please take this weekend to celebrate yourselves and remember that we can not do this work without you.  If no one else says this to you, I recognize that you have been serving our students and families way before the pandemic and will continue to do so long after.”