Getting Connected

As things start to pick up surrounding my job at Blackburn, I’m excited to see what I’ll be doing. This past week, I had the chance to meet with Denise, the social worker at Hardin Park Elementary School. Denise has been working as a social worker for several years and knows what she’s doing. She is a very friendly woman and easy to talk to. After talking about Blackburns’ upcoming Dinner and a Movie hosted for families in September, we began to talk about food insecurity in Watauga and Ashe County. Denise has been working in the field for several years and has seen it all. The more we talked the more I felt overwhelmed for the social workers.

She handed me a sheet of paper with a list of all the social workers and what schools they’re connected. All schools in Watauga county run K-8 (there are no middle schools, which I still find surprising). I scanned it over and commented on the fact one social worker seemed to work at three different schools.

“Well, all of the social workers have a quota of kids. We cover about 800 kids.”

“800?!”

I knew that social workers work hard but one person to check on the well-being of 800 families is quite a lot. “How many of them face food insecurity?” Maybe there weren’t as many.

“About 200 kids are on free and reduced lunch at Hardin Park. It varies from school to school depending on population, but that’s average. And we try to make sure those kids go home with a backpack full of food each day.”

“That number seems high. I know that Watauga has food insecurity issues but…”

“Well, thankfully we have a lot of food pantries in the schools or nearby, though not all have that in their area but those numbers are probably higher. Some parents don’t bother to fill out a form, mostly from embarrassment.”

About 200 kids in Hardin Park face the thought of not eating for the day or only at school. That’s on in every four children and only for Hardin Park Elementary. Denise explained that after going a night without eating, a child might come to school and their free breakfast is a cinnamon bun and a carton of milk. Kids get hungry after eating only sugar to start their day. They’ll go about four to five hours before lunch. When they get home, there may not be a lot of food to eat. If there is, it’s probably unhealthy. When a parent who faces food insecurity has to provide for their kids, they’ll probably skip out on fresh fruits and veggies because they’re more expensive and have less calories than buying potato chips or something cheaper. This food can affect a child’s health and development in the long run which can in turn affect how they do in school, their concentration level, and so much more.

This means that a social worker or school counselor (I was informed today that Ashe County schools do not have a social worker for every school but only have one for the county school system) might deal with 200+ students and their respective families. One person for all of those families.

Of course there are also the teachers. Teachers are the first to recognize issues, however in a classroom of 20-30 students, it’s hard to focus on the three or four kids who might be struggling. Teachers are also expected to do a certain number of activities after school. I know this mostly from experience. My mother was a 5th grade teacher for years. She wouldn’t get home until 5 or 6pm after organizing her classroom, doing bus duty, attending parent meetings, etc. This was all including teaching. After dinner, she would often grade papers, calculate grades, and do lesson plans. Her day, like most teachers in Watauga and Ashe County, ended at 10 or 11pm when she fell asleep at night and then began again at 6am because she had to be at school by 7:15am. My mother also had a family to keep up with, as many teachers in Watauga and Ashe County do as well.

It was good to talk to Denise and realize where the need was and how to address it. We have the tools, but we need the man- power. Overwhelmed parents, teachers, social workers, and school counselors can’t do it alone. Parents need help. Social workers and counselors need help. Communities have the opportunity for that through volunteering and donating. It does indeed take a village to raise a child. I hope that we as a community can rise to the occasion.

Early Christians focused on needs happening in their immediate communities from taking in widows and orphans to treating plague victims. As Christians, we are called to become apart of a community that addresses the needs surrounding. We have to ask ourselves, how can we, as a community and as Christians, meet these needs? There are some very easy ways listed below:

If you’re interested in helping out, Denise mentioned that Hardin Park is in need of children’s tennis shoes, all sizes. Kids are not allowed to participate in gym if they don’t have tennis shoes or the shoes are too worn out. Gift cards are welcome too.

Snacks are also helpful for a kid to get through the day. Peanut butter crackers, cheese crackers, granola bars, and Nutrigrain bars are recommended because they’re healthy and non-perishable. Donations can be brought to Blackburns’ Chapel Sunday morning at 11am or brought to Blackburn House (behind the chapel) throughout the week before 5pm.

Tutoring and proctoring are also great ways to help both teachers and parents. Kids get more one on one attention that might help them through a lesson or just the need for that attention that a teacher may not be able to fully provide in large classrooms. Contact Erica Wrencher at ericawrencher08@gmail.com to figure out how to get involved being a tutor.

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