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CCS School Social Worker Wins Top Award

Martha Jones

March 24, 2021  -- Congratulations, Martha Jones! The Ohio Association of School Social Work has selected Ms. Martha Jones as the winner of the School Social Worker Award for 2021. Martha Jones, who has been with the District for six years, is a social worker at East Columbus Elementary School, Champion Middle School, and East High School.

“School Social Workers assist parents, students, and school staff with identifying needs that interfere with learning and work with students to receive services that meet these needs,” Cheryl Ward, Director, Social Emotional and Student Support Services, Columbus City Schools. “We celebrate and lift up the amazing work of all school social workers and celebrate with Ms. Jones her award as School Social Worker of the Year through the Ohio School Social Work Association.”

Ms. Jones jokes she’s been a social worker since the age of nine when she became a girl scout because the code of ethics for both education and scouting is so similar. While Martha Jones has worked previously in corrections and county and state health departments, she says the most rewarding part of social work is working with adolescents and their families. 

What do you think about receiving the 2021 School Social Worker Award? I’m humbled. It’s always nice to get a pat on the back and be recognized for a job well done. After the year we’ve been through with this pandemic, I think every school social worker and teacher should receive a plaque. A few years ago, I received a phone call from a young man I had helped. He found me through Facebook. He called to tell me he was okay now. He had graduated from school and had a child of his own. To receive that phone call years later means more than anything to me.

Describe your job as a social worker for Columbus City Schools? I’m one of 52 school social workers in the District. Our approach is to help the whole child. That means the student, their family, teachers, and staff. When there is a trauma in the family, there is trauma in the school. Every student we lose to gun violence or COVID-19 will be a trauma that we have to deal with for years to come. 2020 has been a turning point in education. We will not be the same. We will have to embrace new tactics and approaches to solutions.

What’s the best or most rewarding part of your job? When I break through that stigma associated with mental health, and people realize I’m not here to take the child away from home. I am on the student and family’s team. I am not here to do things “to you” but “for you.” It takes a lot of work and patience to get to that point. When a parent walks into the school, nods, waves, and literally screams, “Hey Ms. Jones,” from across the room, then I know I’ve succeeded. When the student invites you into their space to show you something, then I know I’ve made a breakthrough. 

Can you share the challenges of the job as a school social worker? I can sum that up by sharing my two philosophies: “nothing about you without you” and “whatever it takes.” Nothing about you without you means I will not go behind your back, but I am a mandatory reporter. If a parent talks to me about abuse or a child discusses something as sensitive as suicide, I must report it; however, it will be done together. I will walk through the fire with students and families. My goal every time is a mindful approach that is helpful, not harmful.

Whatever it takes means just that, but with boundaries. After-hour calls and care outside the typical school day are standard and expected if you are a school social worker. Being clear about boundaries is also essential. I can’t give students food or money, but I can contribute, for example, to the Tiger Store at East High School. All students who earn “Tiger Bucks” for positive behaviors can benefit and use their earned “Tiger Bucks” for snacks or tickets to a school event.  

How would you finish this statement? As a school social worker, I am most proud of being where I am. Columbus City Schools is precisely where I am supposed to be. Not to use a cliché, but I can relate to the 2021 theme for School Social Workers Week, “a beacon of hope.”  I want to be that port in the storm for students, families, administrators, teachers, and staff. 

What advice would you give to social workers thinking about making a career in school social work? Understand you are at an optimal point in a child’s life, whether in elementary, middle, or high school. It is your job to guide them to the next point. I worked in a halfway house for adult males before I began my career at Columbus City Schools. I couldn’t continue to work there because it was too late. I couldn’t help them. I realized that I needed to be in peoples’ lives sooner at an earlier age. That’s why I work with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Trust and believe you are needed to make the school system better. Every single day is not like the one before.