UConn School of Social Work students help Hartford Public Schools navigate COVID-19 troubles

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Megan Berthold, associate professor and director of field education at the School of Social Work, spoke about the partnership between UConn Master’s of Social Work students and the Hartford Public School District, the impact of the program and students’ hopes and worries about their work. 

“These interns are concentrating on individual, group and family practice and are placed in a school for fifteen hours a week for twenty-eight weeks.”

Berthold said the Master’s of Social Work students will be working 15 hours per week over a 28 week period. She said they will help the Hartford students in a variety of ways, ranging from assessment of family needs to supportive counseling.  

“These interns are concentrating on individual, group and family practice and are placed in a school for fifteen hours a week for twenty-eight weeks,” Berthold said. “The MSW interns are providing a variety of services including assessment of K-12 students and identification of those at risk in terms of their social and emotional well-being and learning; assessment of student and family needs and linking to community resources; groups for K-12 students (e.g., support, trauma-informed, grief groups) and supportive counseling.” 

Berthold said the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with systemic racism, has affected many families throughout Connecticut. She said the Hartford Public School District realized this and reached out to the School of Social Work for assistance. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism have had a significant impact on families and communities throughout Connecticut. The Hartford Public School district identified the complexities of attending to these realities and the serious and cumulative trauma and losses experienced by their students and their families,” Berthold said. “They turned to the UConn School of Social Work, whose graduate students are well-positioned to assist and serve as a resource with the social and emotional learning of K-12 students in the Hartford Public School District.” 

This is not the first time the School of Social Work has worked with Harford Public Schools, but Berthold said that changes have been made to conform to COVID-19 regulations. For example, she said that students now have the option to work remotely in addition to in-person events. 

“The MSW interns have the capacity to work remotely as needed and in accordance with the Hartford Public School District, UConn and State of Connecticut COVID policies and protocols,” Berthold said. “The interns are providing in-person services but also may work remotely at times during the year to serve K-12 students and their families.” 

“The interns are providing in-person services but also may work remotely at times during the year to serve K-12 students and their families.”

“The Hartford Public School district is the largest public school district in Connecticut serving many children of color and those from families with lower incomes disproportionately affected by the pandemic. MSW students have expressed that it is very meaningful for them to be able to serve on the front lines in schools during this pandemic, addressing the pressing needs of many,” Berthold said. “Further, with social work’s commitment to racial justice, it is an important professional opportunity to work to combat systemic racism.” 

Berthold said this was many students’ first time working with clients virtually. She said they are nervous about this endeavor, but it is a great learning opportunity that will positively impact their flexibility in their work. 

“For most of our MSW students, this will be the first time they have provided any services remotely. Some have expressed a concern about needing to learn new skills to connect with their clients when they cannot see them face-to-face,” Berthold said. “At the same time, this is an incredible learning experience and will serve them well in their careers. Social workers often must be nimble and flexible as they approach evolving and complex practice realities.” 

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