Caring for our greatest resource

Impact of MSW School Social Work program felt in schools across Northeast Wisconsin.

It’s been said that our children are our greatest resource. Few believe this more than a school social worker—someone on the front lines, working face-to-face with students and their families on the tough issues that are part of our society today.

Yet, not every school district has a school social worker. This could be because of limited financial resources, or the lack of licensed school social worker availability, especially true in the northern half of the state of Wisconsin.

Until now. In May 2019, 16 Master’s of Social Work (MSW) students graduated from UW-Green Bay with an emphasis in school
social work.

A Passion for Helping

Our greatest resource—healthy, emotionally stable children—grow up to be healthy productive citizens. Cristina Gomez, a current student in UW-Green Bay’s MSW school social work program witnessed this first-hand through her position within the Green Bay Area Public Schools (GBAPS). “As I got to see the work school social workers do every day, I got motivated and wanted to dedicate my time doing something that would help a child in need,” says Gomez, who is currently finishing her field work at Doty Elementary School in Green Bay. “I get to work with school social workers, so I see how their work is full of kindness, care and commitment. I want to be that too.”

Her passion for kids and business-related background give her a unique and needed perspective while working with students who undoubtedly need her care. “I help them regulate their emotions, improve their relationships, help them to be responsible citizens and contributing to society.” She speaks with passion about her position as a social worker, helping students “…make better decisions or to build them up so that they can be the best they can… that impacts our community in the end.”

Going “above and beyond” for those in our schools that need it the most – this is the directive of a school social worker. “If you only had an idea on how the social-emotional programming changes the students’ lives, because that prepares them, and changes their problem solving (ability), makes them more independent, and better at approaching and fixing problems later in life,” says Gomez. “We definitely want that, right?”

A Caring History

The UW-Green Bay Master of Social Work Program originated in fall 2003 as a collaborative effort with UW Oshkosh. In 2015, the collaboration was dissolved, and UW-Green Bay launched its solo program.

In 2016, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) contacted the University, asking if they would consider offering an MSW with an emphasis in school social work. At that time, the only schools in Wisconsin offering this school social work option were located in Madison and Milwaukee.

Gail Trimberger

Gail Trimberger

The University fully supported this expansion of its already successful MSW program. UW-Green Bay prides itself on its regional responsiveness and the addition of this program was no different. “It would have been unjust for us to say no,” says Gail Trimberger, MSSW, LCSW, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of UW-Green Bay’s MSW program. “They (UW-Green Bay administration) were fully behind it, encouraging us to absolutely explore it.”

“Our students can get the MSW degree and go into the field that interests them, such as counseling, hospitals, hospice, homeless shelters, you name it,” Trimberger says. “Social work is becoming more and more prevalent because there is a greater and greater need.”

This new emphasis gives incoming students the option to receive their advanced degree in school social work, meeting the DPI licensure standards required to work in a school setting. “As soon as word got out that we were doing it (the school social work emphasis) we started getting calls from people who had MSW degrees already, asking if they could start,” says Trimberger.

Immediate Impact

For Joe Cook, director of special education at the Reedsville School District, this couldn’t have happened at a better time. “The social worker position is one of the most useful and helpful positions in the district, from working one-on-one with the student, to connecting families to community resources, to wider personal development for the staff,” he continues, “the wide amount of bases that a good social worker can cover, just does a wealth of good for the district.”

The need is great for school social workers. Amber Fredrick (above), already a practicing social worker, took advantage of UW-Green Bay’s new emphasis so that she could start a new career in the schools. She now works for Reedsville School District.

Amber Frederick, Reedsville School District

This belief in the value of school social work led the Reedsville District’s superintendent and board of education to hire  Amber Fredrick ’10 and ’13 (BSW, MSW) an already practicing social worker, and UW-Green Bay MSW graduate, under the provisional licensure. Amber completed her post-MSW program in spring of 2019, balancing time between the school social work internship with the Denmark School District and meeting the needs of the students and families that benefit from her skills at the Reedsville School District. “Amber has really made a big impact,” says Cook. “Having Amber allows us to offer parents so much more assistance in making connections for families that have needs that go beyond the school. It’s helped us bring so much more to families.”

Fredrick’s success and connection within the school district is palpable, and Cook is extremely thankful for her ability to gain this post-graduate degree so close to home. “How it all came together has been a blessing for our district,” says Cook. They’re both grateful for UW-Green Bay’s investment in this invaluable community resource.

–Story by freelance writer Kristin Bouchard ’93

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