A weekend interview with ...
... Melanie Massey-Foltz, Florida's 2008 school social worker of the year. Massey-Foltz has worked in Pasco County schools for more than 30 years, and she spoke about her job and the changes she has seen in it over the decades with reporter Jeff Solochek.
Were you surprised at all [to win the award]?
Why is that?
There are so many social workers who are outstanding in this state. I just didn't expect it. And too, this is like the end of my career. This is my 35th year with the school system.
Are you retiring after this year?
Well, I'm in my fifth year of DROP. I'd like to extend. I'm in that group that could extend, but it's up to the superintendent. If they'll let me extend, I'll do it one more year. Because, you know, I actually still like this job.
Tell me a little about that. Why did you initially get into it? And why do you still like it?
Well, I started out in education. Actually, my first social work experience I was a junior in high school and a senior in high school. I worked Head Start as a teacher's aide. I thought, well, I'll go into education. Then I started education classes and I thought, No, this is not something that I really want to do. Then I was secretary in student services, and I typed social histories and psychologicals. I was the only secretary for the whole county, and I liked the social histories. I thought, This is so interesting. So I got my bachelor's and started work, and have always pretty much worked on the east side of the county.
And you know, it's a job that you do so many different things. You never get bored and you're at a different place every day. ... We do social histories, we do attendance work, we work with families, we do groups, we do individual counseling. And right now I am doing a project with guidance counselors and music teachers. It's called Drumming for Dreams. And we're doing a drum program where the kids take the top 20 that are the most discipline problems and we work on focus and listening and getting along. I get to do things like that, that are really fun.
How is being a social worker different today than it was when you started?
Oh, the issues. There just seem to be more issues. ... Back when I first, when I had the high schools a long time ago, I didn't have anyone who was doing cutting, you know, self-mutiliation. When that started I was like, I don't know if I have the credentials to work with this kind of stuff. But things like that. Just more stressors. For some reason years ago I had several schools but I had more time for follow-up. Now it's like you start back to work at the beginning of the year and it's just bam, bam, bam, bam. You don't get a minute. And I'm one of these that has to get the job done. So you sometimes I'm here working until 5. One Friday night I was delivering a bed in Lacoochee at 6:15.
Did you say delivering a bed?
A bed. Mmm-hmm.
What were you delivering a bed for?
I'm like the Fred Sanford of Lacoochee and the area. The families, if they need a bed, or clothes, or furniture, that's one of the things I think I'm pretty good at, finding resources. So I got a used furniture store in Zephyrhills to donate me a bed, and I stopped at Wal-Mart to get some sheets, and I have recruited groups that you tell them what families need and they help. Like Eastern Star. They just got an award at the School Board meeting. They're a group I've got working with me. ... I tell them we need this in the community. So they're just out there and they help and give me money. And there's another group called the Golden Girls, and over the last 10 years they've probably given me $5,000. ... The ladies get together and they collect this money and they say, OK, use it at your discretion.
Even though we have the ABC accounts, every once in a while you have a family come in and they need [help] right then and there. And I don't have time to go to a bookkeeper and deal with all the paperwork and stuff. But I can give them a gas card or some food, or I can get them some clothes or pay something right then and there.
It seems like your job extends way beyond what happens inside a school.
Oh, yes. Sometimes I think, Do people really know what we're doing? Because you've got to get the needs of the family first. That could be counseling, it could be food, it could be helping them with a bill and get[ting] them to school before they can learn.
How do you know when you've been successful? How can you tell?
You can't always. Sometimes you'll see a turnaround, a family. You want to empower them to help themselves. You'll see a change. The kids will be coming to school. There's a connection with the family. They see you and things get done. Sometimes I don't ever see anything. You think, What I'm doing doesn't make a difference. Then you'll see one student and that makes a difference. You know, one little guy that comes to school and they're happy to see you and they come and hug you. That's what keeps you going. Not the big picture.
So the school districts, as they're looking at their budgets, is there anything to be definitely hands-off on with regard to what you do and the things that you see?
We don't have a budget for school supplies and all those kinds of things. The budget would be, keep social workers. I mean, Moore-Mickens, which is a little small school with maybe 200 students, said, We could use you full-time. All the schools, with the needs now and the issues, they could use a social worker more than one day a week. Because you know, I'm there one day a week, and if I don't find that parent or if I don't get it done, I'm not going to get to do it until next week. ...
And you still love it?
Yep. I do. And then when you get an award it just makes you want to work harder. It's so nice. I said, People should get this at least once in their lifetime. I didn't think some people noticed, and then I got nice congratulations, and they put it on the marquee, and people come up to me and say thank you. I thought, Oh, this is wonderful.