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An Inspirational Student Finishes School Year Strong

Jenny Rodriguez is a very intelligent student and makes friends easily despite being shy and private about her home life. Jenny has a rare disease of the immune system called Hereditary Angioedema (HAE). She lives with her mother, Tracy, who suffers from the same disease and her older sister, Vicky, who did not inherit it. They almost never make it through a complete school year in one district, let alone one school. Let me tell you a little about this student and the obstacles she has faced throughout this school year.

First, I want you to imagine what it is like to be in Jenny’s shoes: Imagine you are stressed because you don’t have a stable home to live in, you live in fear because you have previously been taken from your mothers care and placed in a foster home. Child Protective Services found your mom unfit to care for your needs and called her neglectful when she had long hospital stays. When mom was in the hospital, she was unable to make it to the bank to cash her SSI check to pay rent so you are evicted. No matter how much money your mom makes it seems you can’t get approved to rent another apartment. You are tired of seeing your mom stress over roommate situations that are less than ideal- sometimes leading to hostile and unhealthy situations. What is the point of making new friends? In a few weeks you will probably be at a new school in a new district.

Scenarios similar to Jenny’s cause difficulties at school, but when you also have the same symptoms and disease as your mom, it gets a little more complicated. Like most people when stress is high, the immune system tends to fail causing people to get sick. A symptom of HAE is spontaneous swelling, which can be severe and painful. Sudden swelling attacks due to Jenny’s stress have caused her to miss several days of school. When Jenny returns to school, she is overwhelmed by missing instruction and make-up work, which stresses her out and triggers another episode. The cycle is continuous.

The first few months I worked with Jenny, I had to do a few home visits to make sure she was actually sick and check on the living conditions. I helped mom and student figure out a system to get the absences excused when Jenny was sick. Mom couldn’t always call because twice this year she was on life support and had to receive meds through a port in her chest. I wrote to the doctors to fax notes to the school directly rather than send them with the patient who was already overwhelmed.

For the holidays, CIS helped get them food and found a family to adopt them so they had presents. Jenny returned in the spring. Tracywas able to find a temporary place with the Carter’s, a family who interestingly enough was already on my caseload as well. The Carter’s consistent of a single mom, Harriet, and a 7th grade boy and 8th grade girl. Harriet had always lived with her parents due to her inability to get or keep a job until her parents were fed up and told her to move out. Using the Family Crisis Fund, we were able to get the two families in an apartment in Euless. Through the McKinney Vento Act, the school distract was able to provide bus transportation for the students which also helped improve Jenny’s attendance.

The families have now been living in the apartment for four months and both mothers have found work at the Racetrack in Grand Prarie. Jenny completed a “Child Skills” group which taught her various ways to handle and address stress. At the end of the school year, Jenny had completed three trimesters at the same school. She has made significant progress in attendance. By providing her with a supportive community, Jenny has adopted a new “I can achieve anything attitude” and knows where to lean when her mom is sick or stressors arise. I told her how proud I was of her for her constant perseverance and for making it through the school year. I am not sure if this would have been possible if I had not intervened with the family. For that, Jenny is my greatest success story.

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My Experience as a Program Director

Social work is an interesting profession. There is much to be said about a person that devotes their life to children and families in need. The most frequent question I get asked is “What does a school social worker do exactly?” Honestly it depends on the school level the social worker is placed to be able to answer that question.

I began my career at CIS as a Project Manager (PM) in an elementary school where I had a case load of 90. I worked very closely with the children’s families, held many self esteem and social skills groups (around 13) and opened my office to individual counseling throughout the day. Unfortunately at the elementary level there are frequent encounters of abuse, extreme poverty, hunger and family eviction.

After two years of working with CIS, I was able to move up to a Program Director. I have loved the change but it is a different social work perspective. Instead of working closely with the children and getting involved with their lives on a personal level, which is direct practice SW, I am working hard to ensure that the PM’s I supervise are offering the services the students need. Not only to enhance the lives of their kids but to help ensure we are doing what we have contracted with the state to do and correctly. It is more administrative social work.

One of the experiences I have enjoyed the most this year is my learning curve working with a high school program. I was assigned to oversee Polytechnic High School where the school and the particular area of Fort Worth have various problems. Working at the high school level is a big difference; their problems are individually based such as pregnancy, physical/mental health issues, cutting, working to help support their family, drugs and gangs to name a few. I met a lot of great students this year; some struggled more than others and some overcame obstacles I could only dream up.

There was one student in particular that the PM and I met, worked with, guided, and deemed this years “success story.” A student is considered a “success story” when they have overcome situations that would otherwise lead to high school drop out. This student was able to tell her story at our annual celebration luncheon where one of our favorite CIS advocates, Deborah Ferguson, was a keynote speaker. The story touched Deborah’s heart and she felt like her story needed to be told to a larger audience. CIS was asked to share her story for a Channel 5 news segment which will hopefully be aired soon! We filmed at Polytechnic, where she went to school and it was neat to see what goes on behind the scenes. Deborah is such a nice lady and very approachable. When we finished saying our goodbyes we noticed a group of people standing outside. Two ladies pointed to her and yelled “Oh my gosh, It’s the lady from the news!” She gave hugs and was very kind to her fans. It was neat to be able to work with people who are looked up to by so many local residents. We appreciate the relationship we have with Channel 5 news; their belief in us is inspiring.

I want you leave you all with this: If you want happiness for a lifetime – help the next generation.


Ashley Parrish, Program Director