MSW Students Train Educators Working with At-Risk Students
Through a partnership with Canutillo Independent School District (CISD), funded through a multi-year behavioral education training grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), students in the MSW Program are contributing to the ongoing development of the social work profession in public education settings and contributing to state-level conversations regarding policy and practice, specifically for school-based personnel working with at-risk populations.
With support from the Social Work Department’s HRSA training grant, MSW students are placed in integrated macro-level school-based internships in the Canutillo Independent School District. Working under the direction of the executive director of Student Support Services for CISD, Dr. Monica Reyes, the students complete their clinical hours working on behavioral health integration in the schools. CISD integrated behavioral health services into their schools through a partnership with Project VIDA and the development of social work services at the district level.
Two of the MSW students, Alondra Suarez and Fabian Sigala Orozco, were encouraged by CISD to present at a virtual conference held by TACSAP (Texas Association/Concerned with School-Aged At-Risk and Parenting) in late February. TACSAP aims to provide training for personnel working with at-risk populations, including school counselors, social workers, behavioral specialists and principals/administration. Rosario E. Olivera, MSW program coordinator, helped the students identify a topic for which she and other MSW faculty could provide guidance. Nancy Torres, CISD coordinated school health facilitator, assisted the students in creating and presenting a health education component for their virtual presentation while the students created the mental health component.
“Mentoring our interns has been a complete joy,” Torres said. “I think it is extremely important to expose them to real-world experience with a guiding hand. One of the key learning experiences is connecting them to professional organizations and making them feel part of what they will be leading in the future.”
Suarez and Sigala Orozco’s presentation, “Mental Health in the Virtual World,” included an overview of student learning styles and how the virtual setting impacted student learning outcomes, tips for educators on checking in with students in the virtual setting, such as asking questions like how things were outside of school, how students’ breakfast or lunch was, and how they slept the night before; and how to integrate brain breaks for students with creative and physical activities such as coloring, journaling, moving, or playing with play dough.
Suarez indicated that in developing the presentation, she drew from personal experiences in stress-management and self-care.
“In the presentation, I focused on self-care and boundaries,” she said. “But it wasn’t until I got into graduate school that I finally learned how to set healthy boundaries and how to do self-care. What this meant for me was saying 'no!’ With the self-care aspect, I had to think back about the things I enjoyed when I was younger, like hiking. We need to ask ourselves what did we do back then that filled us with so much joy? And why did we stop doing it? And, the most important question, what is stopping us from starting it up again?”
Suarez and Sigala Orozco were the only university students to present at TACSAP this year. Gabriela “Janet” Corral, TACSAP vice-president, says that the organization plans to expand opportunities for students to present in the future.
“TACSAP hopes to continue to work with the UTEP social work program on a long-term basis,” she said. “It was so great to have the UTEP interns rise to the challenge and present at this year's virtual conference. We hope to create further opportunities to have more interns present as well as attend our conference. We have big ambitions to grow and link up with as many partnerships as possible.”
Sigala Orozco offered advice for other students considering opportunities outside of their comfort zone: “Always choose what scares you the most. For years, I wanted to avoid the macro area, as I was scared of not being able to manage the different challenges. However, those places or learning experiences that scare you or seem impossible are the ones that will help you to have a stronger learning experience and to develop your skills as a professional.”
As for the UTEP Social Work Department’s future plans in developing school-based programming, Olivera said that the Texas Education Agency’s recognition of social workers has created multiple opportunities. In the near future, she hopes to create a certification for school-based social workers. Additionally, the Gadsen Independent School District has approached the department to develop a program like CISD’s for their schools. Finally, Olivera and five MSW students will also present during TACSAP’s March forum on preparing students for lifelong learning while supporting social-emotional needs.
For more information about the Master of Social Work Program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/sw/