BEDFORD, Ohio — COVID-19 has presented new challenges for families and students. Increased mental health issues and job loss have made basic needs unattainable for some.
Because of this, school social workers may be more vital now than ever amid the pandemic. One of them is Bedford City School District's Faith Gordon, who is the 2020 “Ohio School Social Worker of the Year."
She pulls from her own life experiences in order to connect to families going through hard times.
Gordon is one of the first social workers in the Bedford City School District.
“I think that question will be spot on to say who can help them get over that hurdle,” she said while planning a social/emotional lesson with an 8th grade school counselor.
Planning lessons with school counselors is just one part of the job description. She does home visits, too.
“We all fail at some point. It’s what we do. How do we get back up? How do we keep going? How do we get over those challenges?” explained Gordon.
Helping teens is her passion, and social work is her calling. She's been in this line of work for 13 years.
A team of school social workers and mental health therapists were hired in the district last year. This is the second year Gordon has worked with students in both the middle and high school.
“I can touch every student life,” she said.
In-person learning started back up Feb. 1 in Bedford, and Gordon said her favorite part of the day is saying hello in the hallway.
“I miss you," Gordon said to a student. "I miss you, too," they replied.
Helping families in need comes naturally because she’s been there. Gordon was a teen mom. Her daughter was a teen mom. Her twin sons have learning disabilities, and her oldest son passed away after years of mental health and behavioral issues.
“I’ve walked in your shoes. I’m not just saying it because a book or because of something someone told me. I’ve actually lived those experiences,” she said.
Her journey to social work actually began when she was a hair stylist and salon owner. While sitting in the chair, younger clients would open up to her about problems in school.
She felt compelled to help, and she went back to college to earn her master's degree "to actually prevent drop out, to try to help those that were becoming homeless, to try to provide more understanding of mental health and what it looks like in the classroom,” said Gordon.
Gordon earned the “Ohio School Social Worker of the Year” award in 2020. She credits the honor to programs she rolled out that led to a decrease in expulsions and suspensions by addressing the root causes of why kids act out.
“It really helped me to know that, 'Hey keep going. You’re doing something great. You’re helping someone,'” she said.
A new community resource room just opened up for families who may need extra help in the Bedford City School District.
Gordon is one of the school social workers who oversee the room. The community resource room is actually two rooms, and inside, you'll find free clothes, coats, shoes, school supplies, hygiene products, food, and even a washer and dryer.
The room was made possible through CARES Act funding and community donations from organizations including the National Council of Jewish Women.
Currently, these community resource rooms are open by appointment only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays to district families. The hope is to soon be able to expand the services so that all of the resources can be available to the entire community.
Watch the video below to learn more.