Archive for Thursday, September 14, 2006

Social worker on board at LHS

September 14, 2006

Think kids outgrow bullying by the time they reach high school?

Think again, says Katie Smith, Lansing High School's new social worker.

This school year, Smith plans to address bullying, anxiety, depression and other social problems in her role as LHS' first-ever licensed social worker.

But Smith's first task, as she sees it, involves introducing herself to the school community and tackling the misconceptions about her role.

"A lot of people just don't know what a social worker does. They still have the idea that I'm here to take people out of their homes. That's not what I do," Smith said.

"I'm not here to get them in trouble."

Smith hopes an all-school online survey she's conducting will help her and the students learn more about each other.

The 19-question survey asks teenagers about their feelings and thoughts on a wide range of issues such as trust, friendship, anger, self-mutilation, anxiety, sex, suicide and drugs.

Smith said that while some students hadn't taken the anonymous survey seriously, she hoped it would let every student at LHS know she's available if they need someone to talk to.

LENDING AN EAR

One survey comment, Smith noted, asked, "I can talk to you about everything?"

Smith sees her role as a bridge between the school and parents and also between the students and administration.

She said some students had said they didn't think they were being heard by the school's administration.

"Overall, they want more of a voice," she said.

By working with existing programs such as LHS' Leadership, she'll encourage students to utilize outlets for their opinions.

Smith said she also would work at identifying students' special needs, helping teens deal with crises, educating teachers about the needs of today's teenagers and connecting students with community services and agencies for additional assistance.

"The ideal school would be where everyone comes, they all feel connected, they're all passing, no one's dropping out," she said. "That's like the ideal school, and I feel like I'm here to push that, but obviously it won't ever be perfect. With me here, I feel like more kids will be heard and understood."

GROUP EFFORTS

Next semester, Smith plans to launch groups for students to discuss social issues. Bullying tops her list.

"The biggest thing that I see right now is a lot of bullying," she said.

It's a problem for boys, too, Smith said, but girls are the ones who open up the most about the problem.

Using a group curriculum called "Salvaging Sisterhood," Smith wants girls to work together to see the benefits of communication without bullying.

Smith said some teenagers didn't realize how damaging words could be.

"I think it's always, 'Oh I was just kidding.' But when it hurts somebody, you can't take back what you said : even if you were just kidding," she said.

FINDING A NICHE

Originally from Lenexa, Smith earned a bachelor's in psychology at Kansas State University and a master's in social work at Washburn University.

She lives in Kansas City, Kan.

Smith said she realized she wanted to be a social worker during college while working at a mental health center.

Before coming to LHS, she worked in the field for four years while she attended school.

"I love being a school social worker," she said. "I like the fact that my kids and clients are here every day and I can see them every day if I need to."

Smith said the "small-town feeling" and closeness at LHS appealed to her.

While Smith has many plans for her new job, there's one goal that stands out above the others.

"The most important thing I want to accomplish is to become that person that the kids know they can trust and can come talk to, so they know there's at least one person that cares about them and cares about what they're doing," she said.

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