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Social Service Worker Interview

For thirty years Mary VanSickle has been employed by Garrett
County Public Schools as a school social worker. She is one of two in
our county. She works in 6 schools: 4 elementary, 1 middle, and 1
Mary works with a lot of PK-1 students who are unsocialized, not
ready for school, or aggressive/acting out kids. She works with
parents, kids, classroom teachers, and the behavior specialist. She
feels that these kids usually tend to have a lot of family concerns.
Some of the kids have unidentified mental health issues, maybe born
drug-addicted. These kids may eventually be identified as special
education or have a 504 Plan, but not yet. Mary works with these
students on social skills, following classroom rules, and something she
calls check and connect where they need to be debriefed to get their
school hat on. She said that some are bright and capable and end
up doing well, but others do not.
The older students she works with in middle and high school
have serious mental health issues. She helps students transition to
middle school and assists with Tier 3 RTI. These kids tend to be highflyers when it comes to behavior problems. She mentioned that
classroom management strategies dont work with these kids and the
family needs are often beyond fixing. Some of the students are autistic
and some have other special needs. High school students with whom
she works tend to have attendance issues. She helps students
transition into high school and adapt to the new level of expectations.
She also helps them understand and meet graduation requirements.
Mary said of her job, I think its a supportive role. The teachers
have to teach academically; my role is to reinforce them socially.
Mary feels that schools have become surrogate parents, feeding kids
twice a day, giving them fluoride treatment, and sending backpacks of
food home. She feels that theres not a lot of accountability of parents
anymore. She said, What we see is what we get. She believes that
our role in the school is to help these kids to be as successful as they
can and hope that as they go into adulthood, they stay out of jail and
the hospital/drug setting. She views her role as very important
because the academics are off the table if these kids dont get the
skills they need.
Mary recommends as much education as school staff can get
regarding addicted/unfit homes. Students need education on
prevention in drug-abuse and unwanted pregnancy. She feels that
poverty perpetuates drug use and that she received more sexual
education 35 years ago than students receive today. She informed me
that last year 33 drug babies were born at Garrett Memorial; as of June
this year, that number had already reached 50. High-risk moms are
often transferred to WVU and more drug-addicted babies are born in

Western Maryland Health System. Mary feels that this has changed
what education looks like. She said, It looks a lot different than it did
ten years ago. The number of behavior problems has increased over
the years. Increasingly difficult standards are hard to reach for the
average/below average kids; this leads to more struggles than we used
to have. A lot more services are needed to meet mental health needs
more therapists, counselors, and social workers are needed.
Mary feels these kids need a stable constant in their lives, like
the Garrett Mentors. She believes that providing transportation so kids
can stay after school for additional tutoring/support would be
beneficial. More low-income housing thats affordable for families is
also a need in our area. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and
social service workers could benefit from teaming together during
professional development time. She feels those who care for these
children during school could communicate better to help with the
needs of each student. Alternative school could benefit some of our
students but she acknowledged that it is expensive.