Exploring the significant role of the social work profession in public education, top officials and alumni of the University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) gathered March 11 for the 2011 Homecoming Event, "Helping the Kids: Innovations in Social Work and Education."
The event featured a keynote speech by Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, PhD, MS, a panel discussion on education, and an awards ceremony honoring four outstanding alumni of the SSW.
"One thing that can make a difference in the life of a child is a caring adult with special skills," Grasmick said in her remarks. "You are that adult," she told members of an audience that included dozens of SSW alumni from the region, many who work in school settings.
Listeners in the School of Social Work Auditorium responded with warm applause. The audience also included SSW students, staff, and faculty members, many of whom have direct involvement in efforts to improve educational outcomes through such programming as Community Resource Schools.
SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, said the SSW is "working closely with Baltimore City" in some of the turnaround schools and is entering into a contract to provide comprehensive wraparound services. "One of our other goals is to try to integrate information systems about children to improve outcomes," he said.
Grasmick pointed out that social workers help children cope with stress, mental health, family and guardianship matters, grief or loss, and abuse and neglect issues. She also noted the profession's key contribution regarding military deployment and its impact on children in Maryland.
Students' classroom performance will not improve, and it will be difficult to effectively evaluate teachers and school leaders, if some students "are so distracted by the circumstances of their lives that they cannot focus on academics," Grasmick said.
She covered topics such as special education, which reflects her own roots as a teacher of the deaf, to prevention of chronic absenteeism and incidents of bullying, which she said proliferate and make intervention more difficult because of evolving technology.
Grasmick said she would like to see an expansion of social workers in Maryland public schools because constraints preclude the deep intervention that some students need.
Michael Woolley, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the SSW, responded by noting that federal law mandates a role for social workers only with disabled students but that advocacy at the state level for a wider role might produce gains in Maryland.
Woolley also spoke of "an increasing awareness" on the part of the research community and in the practice community of matters that fall within a social worker's realm. "I hear more and more education professionals talk not just about curriculum issues and instructional practices, but about the social climate in their schools and in the neighborhood and how that affects school outcomes," he said.
Woolley moderated a panel on education that featured Tisha Edwards, MSW '00, JD 01; chief of staff, and Susan Steigner, MSW '71, school social worker, both of Baltimore City Public Schools; Razia F. Kosi, LCSW-C, MSW '95, cultural proficiency specialist, Howard County Public Schools; and Liza Oktay Hicks, LCSW-C, MSW '01, senior clinician, Center for School Mental Health of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
This panel addressed trends such as the growing role of social workers as leaders in school reform, in providing mental health services in schools, in advancing the cultural competence of public schools to serve an increasingly diverse student body, and in advocating for school access equity on behalf of populations of students vulnerable to poor school outcomes.
At a luncheon held at the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center, Barth and members of the SSW Alumni Association honored four alumni of the School for their contributions to the profession.
Kimele M. Carter, MSW '06, received the Outstanding Recent Graduate Award. Carter is assistant director for advising and access resources, specializing in disability services, at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Partly because of her initiatives on behalf of the disabled and others, she was appointed to Southwestern's Strategic Planning Committee. She is known for her extensive community involvement and was named Social Worker of the Year for the Capital Area branch of the National Association of Social Workers in Texas.
The 2011 Outstanding Contribution to Social Work Award went to Judith M. Levy, MSW '71, MA, LCSW-C, who is former director of social work and currently the chair of the Ethics Committee of the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) in Baltimore. The institute helps children and adolescents with disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and musculoskeletal system achieve their potential. Levy also is adjunct clinical associate professor at the SSW and recently participated in research to address family-centered care practices in care of children with developmental disabilities.
Regina A. Ritenour, MSW '71, received the 2011 Emeritus Award. She has spent her career in health care at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and its predecessor institutions, going back to 1967. She has served on the center's Ethics Committee for 20 years. She was the social worker in the neonatal intensive care nursery at a time when the state was developing its system to transport premature and sick newborns, and she worked closely with public health nurses throughout Maryland. She also served for a 10-year period as social work consultant at Maria Health Care Center, Inc., for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a religious institute of women.
The 2011 Alumni of the Year Award went to Steven Rivelis, MSW '80, who is chief executive officer of a Baltimore company that has been named one of the "Top 100 Inner City Companies in the U.S." by Inc. Magazine. Rivelis has been a leader in the field of social action and organizing, starting as a lobbyist for women's rights and going on to efforts on behalf of the Charles Village Community Benefits District. In 1988 he co-founded the company Campaign Consultation Inc.
Rivelis was unable to accept the award in person due to a family emergency but his enthusiastic supporters occupied two tables at the luncheon.
Also recognized at the event were several members of the alumni association awards committee: Nailah Gobern, MSW '07; Norma Berlin, MSW '81; Laura Thorpe, MSW '94;
LaFrance Muldrow, MSW '76, who is vice president of the association; and Tanya Bryant, MSW '08, who is president of the association board of directors.