Helping meet the needs, whatever those may be, of the students and schools in the largest, most diverse district in the state—that’s the thumbnail job description of an Indianapolis Public Schools social worker. However, IPS social workers, wisely, do not take on that gargantuan task by themselves. They are a talented and motivated group who leverage various community partnerships and relationships to help our students.

“As social workers, it’s one of our roles to reach out to people to help students, families and staff members get their needs met,” said Megan Thomas, Social Worker at Cold Spring School. “Community partners are vital in the success we have in a school building by helping us meet needs, whether it’s a whole school-wide need, or maybe it’s just a need for an individual family, or a financial need for a small group of students or an after-school program.”

Some key partnerships Thomas manages at Cold Spring include

  • Close neighbor Marian University, which works with the school on student field trips, college mentors for students, professional development for teaching staff and collaboration on the school grounds, gardens and eco lab.
  • Friends of Cold Spring, a group of partners dedicated to helping promote Cold Spring School. Partners like the Marion County Master Gardeners, Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society and Indiana Landmarks help the school plan ideas for the grounds and offer student education on Partners in the Environment 
  • The Department of Natural Resources, which helps with fishing and creek education for the students.

Thomas also partners with other social workers to help schools. She is the current president of the Indiana School Social Work Association (INSSWA), a role she says has given her “a chance to see the huge picture … where there’s room for improvement, where we are really strong and to advocate for school social work in the state of Indiana.”

Thomas isn’t the only IPS social worker on the INSSWA board. Sarah Gould, Social Worker at William Penn School 49, is the current board secretary, and she said “this connection allows me to stay updated with current legislation that directly affects school social workers.”

Michele Whaley, Social Worker at James A. Garfield School 31, has been the INSSWA treasurer for the past four years. She’s happy that the organization can “provide other school social workers with professional development multiple times a year” and allow them to “share information about resources and agencies that can provide support.”

At James Garfield, she said, “I love seeking out and forming partnerships with agencies that have an expertise in various areas of social and emotional health.” She leverages groups like Girls Inc. and Social Health to come in to teach students about self-esteem and bullying prevention. She also has University of Indianapolis nursing students come teach hygiene and nutrition lessons.

Kristy Eaton, Social Worker at Christian Park School 82, also has the University of Indianapolis nursing students teaching lessons at her school. Additionally, she cultivates partners like the Smile program, which comes twice a year to clean and seal students’ teeth, or refers families to utility assistance, doing anything to help “families meet their basic needs so the focus can be on school.”

Eaton also facilitates partnerships at the district level by coordinating the district’s Crisis Response Team. She fields calls from any school facing a crisis, anything from the death of student to a natural disaster, and directs trained psychologists, counselors and social workers from other locations to the school in need, making the best use of district resources.

Through the way they take advantage of every community partner and professional contact they have, IPS school social workers may have their master’s in social work, but their real mastery is in collaborating to improve the lives of all our students and families.