Q&A with social workers who serve Bellefonte Area School District
Sara Mays and Maria McClatchey are school social workers from Central Intermediate Unit 10 who specifically serve Bellefonte Area School District. They took the time to answer questions about how district families and other community members can better cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. They provide tips on managing stress and anxiety, along with providing information about other resources available.
- Sara Mays
School social worker
- Maria McClatchey
School social worker
To listen to a podcast the district’s public relations director conducted with McClatchey and Mays, visit this link: BASD Podcast: Resources with school social workers. It’s also available on the district’s COVID-19 information page, here.
- Sara Mays
Question: What types of resources are available for families?
Answer: All kinds. Food, diapers, employment and unemployment information, internet, activities for kids, important contacts for crisis and safety, counseling, tips for managing stress and anxiety – for kids, teens and grownups – and many more. We are really trying to stay informed, so if you know of something that you think other families should know about, please let us know.
*You can find details on the family and community resources page through the district’s COVID-19 information website: Family and community resources
Q: What does a school social worker do?
A: School social workers support all students in accessing the quality education that they deserve, and act as a link between school, families and resources in the community. A big part of our job is to stay informed on what local services and activities are available for students and families, so that we can help people take advantage of them. We are also trained mental health professionals, so we use those skills to support social and emotional wellbeing of everyone in the school system. I think one of the best parts of school social work is that we are very versatile. We don’t just work in the area of mental health – we can be helpful in all areas. Anytime a barrier pops up that could make it a challenge for a student to get to school, to feel safe and welcome in school, form meaningful relationships or manage stress in their lives, we can help. That help can take the form of providing support directly, collaborating or consulting with school staff, or linking a student and family to an appropriate resource. Bellefonte Area School District started utilizing social work support toward the end of the 2018-19 school year, and have increased services for this school year (2019-20), which was great news, because this is an awesome district to work with.
Q: Are you both still working with the district and Bellefonte Area students and/or families in need during the closure?
A: We are definitely still working and still available to talk with students and families. We are working with the teams at different buildings to check in with families over the phone or by email. We’ve video chatted with students, contributed to resource documents for the website, sent out cards and stayed in touch with organizations in the area to get updated information on how they are operating these days. We can discuss resources or anything else people are interested in learning more about, and we are happy to just listen and spend a little time with students, parents, grandparents – you name it! We want people to know that they don’t have to have a specific question or a specific need in order to reach out to us. Our contact information is provided, and we want you to know that if you call and we aren’t able to pick up, please leave a message because we don’t want to miss you.
Q: Do you have any tips for talking to families about coronavirus?
A: Focus on being genuine, concise and reassuring.
- Be truthful and factual. Correct any misunderstandings they may have.
- Acknowledge that this is a really unusual situation and it’s OK to feel confused or worried, and let them know that you also feel that way sometimes.
- Reassure kids that they are safe.
- Discuss how your family is taking action to stay healthy.
- Explain to them that sometimes people feel differently about things like this, as they may hear differing opinions from people on the news, other adults in their lives, etc., and that you feel educated and confident about what you are telling them.
Q: Many families are trying to maintain a routine or a schedule these days, and that can be hard. Do you have any advice?
A: Routines and schedules can help us stay on track with the things we need to do each day, and also give us a sense of security and a pace for the day. Remember, that it is the routine’s job to help and serve you, not your job to serve the routine. So, when you’re building a routine, you can start with the things that are already scheduled for you, like work hours for parents and scheduled class activities for kids, and then build around that by including personalized healthy things. Listen to your body. With a significant change in activities, our bodies might need more or less food than our usual intake, or we might need more or less sleep, or maybe sleep at different times. You can also experiment with the order of your day. For some people, it works best to tackle their most challenging or important task right at the start of the day. For others, it is better to start their day with lighter tasks to build confidence and momentum. For me (Maria), it depends on the day, so I allow myself to make those adjustments while still being committed to completing my tasks.
Q: What are some ways adults at home can manage their own stress?
A: Managing stress is a valuable skill that involves compassion and practice. We encourage you to think about what has worked for you in the past and also be willing to try new ideas.
- Take breaks from media, manage news intake, read and share credible news sources
- Get back to basics: food, sleep. Try a bedtime routine to signal your body that it’s time to sleep. They’re not just for kids. Reading a book, coloring, a puzzle, listening to music, a warm drink, stretching, whatever works for you.
- Feel your feelings. Pay attention to your body and the sensations and clues it gives you as your emotions change throughout the day. Take some deep slow breaths, and if you can, name your feeling. It is ok to step away and take a break from a task or situation that feels frustrating or overwhelming. If there’s another person involved, let them know you need to step away for a minute so that you can come back and work through things with more calm.
- Ask for information and support if you need it.
*For more ideas, look at this page on daily life and coping provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC
Q: This is a new lifestyle for so many of us, being at home together all day every day. What are some ways that families can address the frustrations that come up?
- Be intentional about having family time, partner time and alone time or ‘me time.’ Discuss with your family the ‘when?’, ‘where?’ and ‘what?’ of those times.
- Check out the self-care wheel and think about ways that you can look after yourself in each of the domains. If nobody has told you this yet, we are telling you now: Self-care is not selfish! It is responsible! If anyone says differently, you give them our contact information and tell them to give us a ring.
- Various coping skills. You can find lots of ideas by doing an internet search for coping skills for adults, teens, children, etc. or by the feeling. Example: Coping skills for anxiety. We also have lots of information and ideas to explore on this topic.
*See this resource page from “A Mindful Village” with Dr. Peter Montminy: Resources
Q: Where can I find information about unemployment?
A: For Pennsylvania unemployment information and claims, visit uc.pa.gov.
- To find out about local businesses hiring, go to wearecentralpa.com.
- Click on the COVID-19 dropdown menu, then on “Businesses Hiring.”
- Or check out the PA CareerLink Portal: PAcareerlink.pa.gov.
- Click the green banner labeled “PA COVID-19 Jobs – Hiring Immediately” to see active job openings.
- Select “Apply Now” button to be redirected to employer’s website or email
Q: How do parents or students get access to a social worker after things go back to normal during the regular school year?
A: You can reach us using the same numbers and email addresses that you would use now. You can also ask a school counselor, teacher, nurse or principal to put you in touch with us. We try to be easy to find.
Q: Some families might have wanted to ask about getting counseling services for their child, but then school physically closed. Can they still do that?
A: Yes! Many counseling providers are utilizing video or phone services to continue providing therapy virtually. Whether you have worked with a counselor before or are new to it, we are glad to talk with you about what you’re looking for, and help you find it.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD