In 2018, we followed UBSSW alum Tara Taddio, MSW ’08, around to see what a typical day was like at her job as a School Social Worker at East High School in Buffalo. (View her original day-in-the-life video above).
Two years later, in October 2020, her job looks very different. The nature of school social work has changed drastically over the past few months in response to COVID-19. Districts have had to alter their modes of instruction, teaching schedule and delivery of support services.
We sat down with Tara to discuss what has changed and how her new role at International Preparatory School, where she stared working in fall 2019, has been impacted during this time.
UBSSW: First things first – tell us about what it's like now? How did your school adjust? What changes did they make? What are the students doing?
Tara Taddio: Buffalo Public School is 100% remote. Staff actually walked out of the building March 17th and we re-entered the building these past couple weeks with staff mandated to be here two times a week. Teachers are in a classroom or at their home-based office … teaching five classes a day and then also following a schedule for … office hours virtually but also answering so many questions from students and families.
UBSSW: How have you adapted to the change? Has it been hard?
TT: It challenges you. It definitely brings out my flexibility and how to help others … and maybe help them cope with the change. But I'm still learning. I think this has been an ongoing learning experience. Not only with how I can provide services and support to my students and families and even staff at this time, but I'm also learning so many technology techniques that I did not have.
UBSSW: What does a new day look like for you? What kind of things are you doing throughout the day?
TT: So, definitely different. I've been signing in every day whether I'm at home or at school. I've been at the school at least two to three days a week, but I'm actually allowed to be out in the field. So I can go to the homes that I was not allowed to back in March. My typical day so far has been … checking my email in the morning and really seeing what student needs there are. And I want to say 100% right now, the student needs are a laptop that is working, access to a laptop, and access to internet. For those students and families that have not been able to get to the one location that Buffalo is providing, I've been assisting with that. So going to the building that has all the technology, signing them out, and now arranging for drop-offs and making sure the student and parent are there.
UBSSW: A lot of your day sounds like is spent not in your office, necessarily, but kind of traveling around visiting?
TT: Traveling around. Yeah, making phone calls, connecting with others. And then … the drop-off also creates that open door… it helps with the initial greeting or the return greeting of a student that I've seen before, or a new student. We have freshmen entering our high school that have never met us. So it's either an introduction or reuniting interaction. And then from there, just because I may have arranged for a laptop drop off, then I could assess, are there other things you need? And just making that small contact … has been gratifying for me. And from what I see, and some of the faces, it's been helpful for them.
UBSSW: What other kinds of problems or concerns do students have that you've seen come up a lot?
TT: The mental health support piece of lacking physical contact with people and the need for adjusting to learning at home. So a student who might have a larger family and space that is not … created to be a learning space, they're now trying to navigate how they're going to do that full day. And also meals. We have those pantries here that we can help with. But there's a lot of community resources right now that are very low… on volume. And some crisis intervention. So a lot of social emotional needs are still a concern.
UBSSW: Any other observations or anything that you realized throughout this time that you want to comment on?
TT: Yeah, so I transferred over to the International Preparatory School at 198 and so we have a large refugee population. And so not only take the changes of going to school, but the language [difference]. And so we've really had to continue to learn how we are communicating with our families and the different needs that they have. And I've learned also to not just assume that a family is sitting at home with their students being able to help them at the table. There might not even be a table, there might not be two parents in the household, [they] might be the ones that have to go full-time to work. And then not to assume that they have the materials that others might have. We've come to be more diligent in our efforts and more creative in reaching out and then maintaining contact, just so that we know people are engaged and well.
UBSSW: Would you say because of everything that's happening that inequalities are much more obvious now than they used to be?
TT: Absolutely. The social, economic inequality. And then the racial inequality, but also the gender inequality. We're talking about some young females who might be taking care of the rest of their family while mom or dad is off to work, and so how her day might be different to a young boy’s day who might be asked to go to work. And we've had a lot of adolescents inquire about working papers, wanting to get out to work and probably providing for their family. So I do see the inequalities even more, you know it's obvious with the simple access and availability for technology and that's a very sad state and it's obvious in my job too because we're on the front trying to get whatever we can for these families. So, yes.
UBSSW: What's been the most difficult part of this whole situation so far?
TT: For me, the most difficult part has been seeing and listening to the students and families’ difficulties accessing this all. And then the lack of interaction with a student. Because we can email and we can text and we can do a video, but it's so much different.
UBSSW: Any opportunities or any positive things that might come out of this or anything that you were surprised maybe went better than expected?
TT: Yeah, I'm trying to reach the positives every day. I've seen a lot of people come together, and that's a huge positive. Whether you're a teacher, a social worker, a staff member, just seeing everybody kind of coming together for the needs of the students and the families. And the gratitude from a student or a family member when I've showed up at their house… it gives me the chills when I talk about it because, not that I didn't think that gratitude was there, but to hear them vocalize it, it really means a lot.
UBSSW: What advice would you give people, other social workers or our students, who are trying to deal with these adjustments and transitions?
TT: Keep breathing. Patience. Looking for the small positives in each day. Definitely supporting yourself, not trying to do it alone, but connecting, whether it's with other colleagues, with other educators that are going through the similar challenges, that has helped me. And of course, I'm going to end with self-care because we've all been through this change but you have to keep your own self-care above the water to be able to continue to provide the care for others. Just keep on. With anything, it's really building resilience and ways to adapt and change. When we're in the present moment sometimes we forget what the experiences we're having… what it's teaching us.