School-Based Social Workers Effect on Creating Safer Schools
Ream, Emily Lauren
University of Kansas
Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
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With school shootings happening across the United States almost daily, the call for educators and researchers to understand how to prevent such violence is timely and necessary. While many associate school security with physical measures such as secure perimeters, metal detectors, and security guards, there is no research to show that this method is effective in preventing school shootings. On the contrary, there is mounting research to show that these physical strategies have multiple adverse effects on students, staff, and school climate. This study is uniquely situated in the current research available because it evaluates relational approaches to creating more safe and secure schools. There are many ideas and strategies that encourage relationship building between teachers and students, however, this study focuses on the specific relationship between elementary school-based social workers and the students with whom they work. The need to focus on such a specific age bracket stems from the research that shows early interventions are most effective. While this idea is traditionally applied to academic interventions, the same is also true in social and emotional interventions. By interviewing thirteen elementary school-based social workers for this study, I was able to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the work in which these professionals engage each day. Across eight elementary schools, the student populations differ in many ways and as such, the needs of the community range greatly. In this study, school enrollments range from 64 and 600 students. Likewise, interview participants have worked in the buildings anywhere from one to thirteen years. Moreover, schools in this study range between 20-81% student population who qualify for free or reduced meals. However, by concentrating on one school district, with a wide range of differences from building to building, the integration of social workers is one of the only consistent social and emotional strategies that all schools share. However, while each school has been allocated one part time social worker through district funding, there are still inequities in this area. For example, schools with Title I funding have a full time social worker while the school that receives the most funding can afford an additional half time social worker. At the other end of the spectrum, there are three schools that have private foundations. These foundations pay salaries in the school building for additional personnel. These “community funded positions” include innovation specialists, instructional coaches, and social workers. All in all, this means that the schools with the highest and lowest need receive the most support, while those in the middle are often have the highest enrollments with the least number of student-support staff. By interviewing social workers across the school district, this study aims to provide a snapshot of the work being done, challenges or misconceptions around the role, and recommendations for how to best leverage the relational aspect of this role in order to prevent school violence such as school shootings.
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