This post is written for my Mesa Community College and Arizona State University social work students so that they can truly understand and appreciate the journey they have started. It is dedicated to the students of Bostrom Alternative Center (19 yrs) and Maryvale High School (9 yrs) where I spent my career as a school social worker and who taught me more than I ever learned in graduate school.
There are many things to love about being a social worker. Every day is a new experience with new challenges. The great thing about social work is that there are so many different settings in which to practice. Hospitals, mental health clinics, child protective services, geriatrics, hospice…basically, any system where people come for help, there will most likely be a social worker. I was lucky enough to spend 27 of my 31 years in direct practice as a school social worker in the Phoenix Union High School District.
Being a school social worker affords you the opportunity to see young people mature and grow over 4-5 years and sometimes more if the student is receiving special education services. There is more control of the variables in a school setting because you have access to students six hours per day for a school year. That’s if students don’t drop out. So, the primary role of a school social worker is to help students and parents solve problems that are interfering with the student’s ability to progress towards graduation. We work with students, hopefully see them graduate and we wish them well as they go out into the world. With social media such an important and integral part of people’s lives, you never know when you will “run” into a student. Recently, a former student who I have remained close to all these years posted a picture of us on Facebook and she added me to the Bostrom Alternative Center group page. I was overwhelmed by the comments of my former students. Here they are:
You were a great! Thank you for being there for us!!!
Without you Joe and everyone else there at Bostrom. I don’t think half of us would’ve made it out with a diploma! Thank you for all of your support Joe!!!!!
….. you always had a smile Joe! Thanks for that too…
I don’t only credit Joe with helping me get a diploma, but with saving my life as well! Never would have made it through those years without you, Joe!
I was just about to say the same thing! Had it not been for Joe I wouldn’t be here today! Wow…..Joe DePinto! Seeing you on here made my day!
I’ve looked for you for years to say “thank you” and to let you know I survived. So good to finally hear from you!
My life was out of control. Then I went to Bostrom and met Joe and TJ. I have them to thank for where I am today.
I was overwhelmed. We don’t go into this field for the thank you’s. If they come along, great. We know the work we do and the help we have given. I tell my students that they did all the work and I just supported them but you know what? It feels really good to hear these things.
There was a very popular book in 1978 called The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck and the only thing I remember about the book is that the author, a psychiatrist, said that therapists must love their clients in order to be able to help them. He didn’t mean a romantic love but rather loving them as human beings being worthy of love. That’s really all I did. I’ve always told my social work students that when we work with young people we have to sometimes assume a parental role. I ask them, “What would a healthy parent do in this situation?” We discipline with love. We make a distinction between the behavior and the child’s worth. They are always separate. Trust me, adolescents know how to push the buttons that make you angry and I do not want to give the impression that I was always happy with how students acted with me. Here’s the deal. You screw up today and there are consequences. Tomorrow when I see you, it’s a new day and we start over. That’s how I did my job. That’s how you love your students and if I didn’t treat them this way, there wouldn’t be those Facebook comments you see above.
I’m not listing these comments to toot my own horn or to say how wonderful I am. I’m listing them because when you’re tired from your work and you don’t think that what you do matters, remember that it does matter. Those comments you see? They’re from students I worked with almost thirty years ago! They won’t ever forget you and when they say these things, all you need to say is, “It was my great pleasure to be there for you. Thank you for allowing me to help you.”
This is why I loved being a school social worker. Thanks for reading as I rambled on.
Joseph A. DePinto, LCSW