DADE CITY — Melanie Massey-Foltz spends much of her working days helping kids and families in eastern Pasco County. If they don't have their basic needs taken care of, the school social worker says, children can't do their best in school. This week, the Florida Association of School Social Workers recognized Massey-Foltz's efforts by naming her 2008 school social worker of the year. At the end of this year, she plans to retire unless the superintendent allows her to extend her contract by a year. The reason? "I actually still like this job," the 35-year-veteran says.
Tell me a little about that. Why did you initially get into it? And why do you still like it?
I was secretary in student services, and I typed social histories and psychologicals. … 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?
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. … 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. … And I have recruited groups that you tell them what families need and they help. Like Eastern Star. … 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. … 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 getting 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. … 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.
(When) the school districts are looking at their budgets, is there anything to be definitely hands-off on with regard to what you do?
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.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.