MAPLEWOOD, NJ — SOMA families have been taking advantage of the new social and emotional support programs South Orange Maplewood School District introduced this fall.

Twelve social workers and 36 social work interns work to support students, staff, and their families. The district hired a multicultural team with social workers who are fluent in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

Dr. Melody Alegria, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, says that students, and especially parents of younger children, have been regularly reaching out to the social workers for help.

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“We’re really excited about the level of support that we’re able to provide to teachers,” said Dr. Alegria. “Our social workers have provided them with scripts to follow when they are talking with a student about different issues.”

Teachers are able to have initial conversations with students using these scripts before referring the child to one of the social workers at their school. After connecting with the student, social workers then follow up with the teacher so that everyone involved is on the same page.

Social workers are also working with students in small group settings. They have been leading virtual class circles where they help students process any issues that may come up due to the pandemic; social workers also introduce different strategies that students can employ. When the social workers have identified a student or family that may be having difficulties they are able to conduct outdoor socially distant home visits.

“A big target of ours was reaching out to families with free and reduced lunch,” said Dr. Alegria. Ultimately through a partnership with the YMCA these families were able to receive childcare at virtually no cost.”

Dr. Alegria credited Karen Weiland, Director of the Parenting Center and the Social Work Field Supervisor, with spearheading many of the new initiatives the district is offering this fall. The Parenting Center has presented the expert speaker series for parents and guardians to learn about how children may be coping with different aspects of the pandemic. The final speaker is Allison Briscoe-Smith Ph.D. on November 17, the event is called ‘How to talk to your kids about race and racism.'



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