- Playa del Rey Elementary
Gilbert Public Schools celebrates School Social Workers
Since the early 1900s, school social workers have been bridging the gap between home life and the classroom. On a daily basis, they commit themselves to making sure students stay on the path to success. At Gilbert Public Schools, the school social workers on our campuses are invested in the whole child. They give GPS students the tools needed to achieve academic excellence and emotional well-being. As a result, GPS students are empowered inside and outside of the classroom, and go on to become contributing members of our community. During the week of March 6-12, 2022, Gilbert Public Schools joins school districts across the country in recognizing the hard and heartfelt work of school social workers. You are a critical part of the GPS family, and we celebrate you!
Christa McKirchy, Islands Elementary
As a young child, Christa McKirchy learned the importance of giving back to her community. Her mother regularly had her donating time to food banks and helping the homeless. As McKirchy would go on to get her education and begin her professional career, choosing a path in school social work seemed like the right fit.
“I wanted to help people,” she said.
McKirchy is the school social worker at Islands Elementary. While she has worked with Gilbert Public Schools for eight years, this is the first year she has spent at Islands, and she loves building relationships with her new students.
“We’re able to help with mental health. We’re able to help with getting families and teachers connected, working together, and building a relationship, so kids can come to school and learn,” she said.
McKirchy spends her time at Islands checking in with students in small and large group settings. Every morning, she makes sure her students have eaten breakfast and unpacked their bags before she sends them off to class with an encouraging word for the day.
Islands Elementary is a Title I school, which means administrators, teachers, and staff work together to provide extra support to those students who are at risk of not meeting state academic standards. This can mean making sure a student’s basic needs are met.
“Wellness can look different depending on where you are. For our kids, it means making sure they are eating, they are warm, they have water, and they feel safe,” she said.
McKirchy uses a variety of teaching methods to connect with her students. She says they really seem to enjoy hands-on activities like painting, sand therapy, and games. Through these activities, her students are able to learn skills like sharing, problem solving, and healthy expression.
“It frees their minds. It allows them to express themselves, and it is a great way to start a conversation,” she said.
Helen Dippre, Settler’s Point Elementary
At Settler’s Point Elementary, Helen Dippre provides a safe space for students to come and temporarily leave the anxieties of the outside world behind. Dippre has worked with Gilbert Public Schools for a total of 18 years, serving in various roles from school social worker to the former homeless education liaison. She really enjoys the human services aspect of her work.
“I absolutely love my job. I come to work, and I’m happy all the time. Children are amazing. They are so resilient and full of hope. I love being able to nurture that,” she said.
Dippre works to identify what her students are lacking and, from there, she is able to provide them with tools and resources to fill the gap. She’s also a support to families who may be going through challenging times.
“Families and kids are dealing with a lot. When they walk into the building, they haven’t left what they are worried about behind,” she said.
A lot of the work that Dippre does at Settler’s Point is collaborative. She teams up with the school’s psychologist and nurse to provide assistance to students where needed. She says the resources available to students these days are far different than she experienced as a child.
“If I had a serious issue or tragedy, I just stayed home. I didn’t go to school and talk about it with someone. I don’t even remember having a social worker on campus,” she said.
Her students enjoy eating lunch in her quiet space, playing games, practicing mindfulness, mediation, and puppet activities. Dippre believes those methods can help students learn new coping skills and healthy ways to resolve conflicts. She hopes that GPS families see the benefits of having a social worker on school campuses, and she hopes that they will reach out and get connected.
“We are part of the bigger picture. I want them to see this as a positive thing. We know that when our families are healthy and feel empowered, that our children are going to feel that way. They are going to do better academically,” she said.
Lisa Yocum, Mesquite Junior High School
Students at Mesquite Junior High School come from a number of diverse backgrounds. The school is the only secondary Title I campus in the Gilbert Public Schools district, which means students and families are in great need of resources to ensure academic success. Lisa Yocum, the school social worker on campus, embraces the diversity of the students and families.
“Where the students come from doesn’t matter, however we need to support and provide for them – we just step up and do that,” she said.
Yocum works to lift the burden for families, often providing backpacks, school supplies, food bags, and resources for housing assistance. She works directly with the GPS Family Resource Center to provide students with basic necessities. Yocum says helping this particular age group can be challenging, because they are very well-aware of their surroundings and what their peers may think of them.
“I never want to put them in an awkward or embarrassing situation,” she said.
After their essential needs are met, Yocum empowers students to make their own healthy choices. She encourages them to be honest and factual, reminds them that not responding to a situation can be a sign of strength, and that checking in with an adult is always a good choice.
“I really want to support the students in their independence and their self-advocacy,” she said.
As students check-in with her daily or weekly, Yocum makes it a point to validate their feelings and the problems that they are facing. She says this is key to getting them to open up.
“I make sure to always ask a student what they need and what I can do to help them,” she said.
Yocum’s ultimate goal is to make sure students are on track to be successful in high school from an academic and socio-emotional standpoint. She provides them with tips on how to stay organized with their schoolwork. She promotes communication between students and teachers, and she discusses the importance of students taking advantage of tutoring opportunities. Yocum says GPS families need to know that school social workers want the best for all students.
“We’re here to help. We’re here to support. We want your student to be successful just as much as you do, so let’s work together to figure out how we can make that happen,” she said.
Kelly Linskey, Canyon Valley School
Kelly Linskey works with students at Canyon Valley. The alternative high school draws students to its campus for various reasons, including credit recovery and smaller class sizes. The school’s staff works to meet GPS students where they are and help them get back on track to graduation.
“I feel like we’re kind of the best kept secret,” Linskey said.
Her job is to help students overcome any obstacles they might be facing in the classroom or at home that are hindering their academic success. Linskey describes herself as an “advocate” for students and families. She provides a safe space where they can be open, honest, and authentic.
“I think it is one of the most critical pieces of my work,” she said.
Linskey teamed up with one of her colleagues to create the “Wellbrary” at Canyon Valley. It’s the combination of a wellness room and a library, and includes a couch, chairs, books, yoga balls, mats, games, and more.
“We’re trying to create a comfortable place for students to come to that gives them that 10-minute respite from the day, or they just need a comfortable place to go and talk before going back to class,” she said.
She hopes in the future to have a mobile Mindfulness cart, where she can go around the campus to different classes and do activities with students. For now, in her role, she focuses on helping students find their own way and she supports them no matter what.
“I don’t want to give advice. I want them to be able to see different perspectives, and then make a decision for themselves,” she said.
She also builds connections wherever she can on campus. Linskey helps out in the front office and with serving food at lunchtime. She says it allows her the opportunity to meet students that she might not typically cross paths with throughout the day.
“I know every day is not a typical day, but I’m always going to learn something. I know I’m going to have some kind of impact no matter how small, but it’s still an impact on someone,” she said.