One Recipe for Student Success: A Little Help from Everybody
A former refugee from Somalia, Sadia Said, who grew up in Libya then moved to Egypt and eventually emigrated to America, knows it takes a little help from a lot of people to succeed in this country. She understands the power of people helping people. So when she started at San Diego State University, she knew she didn’t want to teach children, she wanted to help them.
“I thought social work was only about resettlement. Later I realized you could work at a school, in a hospital… Everybody needs help.” When she learned about United Way’s Every Student, Every Day absence-intervention initiative—where interns work to understand issues facing students and their families, with support from the school site, clinical supervision, and weekly coaching—it seemed like a perfect fit. “I’m a childcare provider with a daycare center in my home, so I already work with kids. I liked that the program involves parents and their children and their teachers and the school staff … a little bit of everything.”
That “little bit of everything” would play a key role as her new internship at Central Elementary in City Heights unfolded.
“I had a first-grader on my caseload, Delia, who was, hesitant to tell me what was going on at the beginning. She kept asking me if I was a social worker-I found out she’d had a negative experience with one. As we continued to see each other — it took five meetings before I found out what was really going on in her house — she started opening up, telling me things.” As it turns out, Delia was witnessing troubling incidents that made her afraid to go home. “I wasn’t sure what to report or what to say,” Sadia says.
Later, she consulted with her supervisor, United Way’s Impact Manager Nina Ghatan, MSW. Together, they decided to report it.
When the front desk told Sadia that Delia’s mother was there to pick up her child, she was conflicted. “We weren’t sure if we should send Delia home with her.” Luckily, Central Elementary Principal Liz Duvall intervened to talk with the parent—who only spoke Spanish—acting as a liaison to explain “mandated reporting,” a policy that dictates certain professions (teachers and principals) are legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to authorities.
“Her brother and father were fighting in front of her.”
“I thought [the mother] wouldn’t be very helpful, but she was supportive of the idea,” Sadia says. “She wanted what was best for her daughter.” Delia was watching her Dad and a brother fighting. Mom was aware but didn’t know how to fix it or where to go. “She didn’t realize how much it had impacted her daughter, the youngest in the family. When we met with the mother, she told us she was looking for a therapist for the entire family. Principal Duvall made a referral to for crisis intervention and individual, family, and group therapy so the family could get help.”
“Everyone at school was so helpful,” Sadia continues. “But it was scary.”
With logistic support from the school site, plus clinical supervision and weekly coaching, Sadia found her way with Delia, while United Way’s Ghatan found understanding with Delia’s mother.
“Originally we had a view based on what Delia was telling Sadia, including that the mother had been in prison. But that wasn’t the whole story. She was there because of immigration. We became even more empathetic.”
As more layers were uncovered, more preventions were put in place to protect Delia. Now, the school social worker knows Delia’s situation and helps out when Sadia isn’t available.
“Sadia’s growth was remarkable to witness,” her supervisor adds. “She grew from a nervous young woman an insightful investigator.”
UWSD’s absence intervention initiative, Every Student, Every Day, offers a set of interventions to increase school attendance using data and our partners’ expertise to put impactful solutions into action. The initiative has consistently produced positive results for children and families, including increased attendance for participating students. This is another example of how United Way aligns partners, collaborating closely with schools, teachers, parents and staff, to leverage the resources and best practices that can help transform the lives of children, young adults and families.