BY KARISSA MILLER
Since joining Iredell-Statesville Schools around two months ago, school social worker Kaylyn Dollar has learned that bed bugs are a growing problem in the county.
One family that Dollar was working with had the misfortune of dealing with what became an extensive problem.
“They’re almost impossible to get rid of without professional treatment,” Dollar explained.
Bed bug extermination can cost between $1,500 to more than $4,500 based on the size of the home.
“Most of our families don’t have an extra $1,500 lying around,” Dollar said.
Dollar decided to seek financial help for the family after realizing that it wasn’t going to be a quick fix.
Instead of stigmatizing this family, the school community stepped up to support the affected family in their time of need.
Together, they raised approximately $1,100 for the family to have their home exterminated, in three rounds, using a local pest control company that also pitched in.
The community also donated $115 worth of new clothing to each child, Dollar said.
“That came purely from community effort. While that was an incredible thing to be a part of, we cannot do that for every family,” Dollar said.
This is one example of issues that school social workers help students and families address.
Advocating for Homeless Students
Tonya Reid, a school social worker and McKinney Vento District homelessness liaison, works as a liaison between the school system and government and community agencies that assist families.
The U.S. Department of Education, under the McKinney Vento Act, defines homelessness in schools as individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.
As of March 5, I-SS had 264 students identified as homeless.
Last school year ended with 364 homeless students in the district and Reid expects that number to be around the same this year. During the 2018-2019 school year, 56 families received assistance with transportation and money to wash and dry their laundry.
According to Reid, there are different types of homelessness in Iredell County: students living out of a hotel, living in an emergency shelter, a vehicle or other unstable housing situation.
“We know that there’s issues of poverty here in Iredell County. We know that it manifests itself, often times, creates issues that hinder children from learning,” Reid said. “We need funds that we can tap into that are identified within our student population.”
For example, when there are bed bug issues or a head lice outbreak in a home, she explained, these are costly expenses.
Meanwhile, while some families already have their summer break planned out, other families are dealing with homelessness each week.
“Many of our families are operating in crisis-response mode,” Dollar said.
Reid said that with I-SS offering summer learning camps related to art, music and STEM for children of various ages, she would like to connect the students that she assists to these opportunities.
However, the cost of the camp and transportation to and from the camp each day are some of the barriers.
Reid is working to raise awareness of the homeless student population locally and trying to bridge the gap for students in the summertime.
Not only will it have a positive impact on their learning, she said, but it gives them an opportunity to be social and make friends, she added.
About School Social Workers
School social workers are one of the few resources in schools for addressing personal and societal problems that can inhibit a student’s ability to learn.
They are a liaison between the school and the home and work to address issues that impact a student’s ability to concentrate and learn.
Most school social workers can be found in elementary and middle schools. Iredell-Statesville Schools is now served by social workers Dollar, Reid, Justin Hefner, Emily Nesbitt, Raven Forney, Maria Ramon, Michelle Smith, Lea Stikeleather, Cassie Houf and Paola Candalaria.
The hiring of these nine social workers was possible through a federal grant that will span five years. It’s part of the mental health initiative in the district’s security plan.
In the past, the district had between one to three social workers for the entire district. The hiring of nine social workers has allowed more schools to be served and focus on students and families.
“Our mental health staff is really doing a good job to identify students who are in need early,” Director of Student Services Kelly Marcy said when she presented the information on the grant to the school board.
School social workers provide a wide range of services including:
♦ Looking at attendance and investigating why children are missing from school.
♦ Phone contacts and home visits with students experiencing barriers to school success.
♦ Meetings with teachers and other staff.
♦ Helping to connect individuals and families to community resources.