A school bus outside Kennelly School in Hartford Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org
A school bus outside Kennelly School in Hartford Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org

Hartford Public Schools and the UConn School of Social Work announced Thursday that more social work students will intern in the school system, boosting students’ access to support and resources.

Over 20 social work graduate students will be working throughout Hartford schools by early October, 16 hours a week for 28 weeks. These interns have concentrations focused on individuals, groups and families and will work with students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Students are overwhelmed in the public schools, teachers are overwhelmed, families are stressed with all the educational changes and the pandemic and, you know, a lot of what’s going on in the country right now,” said Nina Heller, the social work school’s dean. “Social work is really committed to marginalized communities, and to sort of the urban needs. And so really, we wanted to step up.”

Hartford is the first of six districts, so far, to start this partnership with UConn. Vernon, Norwich, Meriden, Hamden and Thompson Public Schools will also begin receiving additional support from social work grad students in their schools in the next few weeks, Heller said.

Since the department moved to UConn’s downtown campus three years ago, Heller said, “we have a really strong commitment to Hartford.” So it felt important, she said, to begin this partnership in their own backyard.

Heller added that when it became clear that Black and Latino people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, she and Hartford Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez discussed wanting to make this partnership longterm — in Hartford, 54% of students are Hispanic or Latino and 29% are Black.

Torres-Rodriguez said the district sent a planning survey for the 2020-21 school year to collect feedback on community needs, and families and staff both mentioned the need for additional mental and emotional health services in schools.

“[The district hopes] to address the needs of the whole student and have added support for students to be able to unpack what they’re dealing with, what their families potentially are dealing with,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

Accordingly, the UConn grad students will come in with specialized training in school-aged mental health and trauma, anti-racism, stress, abuse and supporting youth resilience.

“The other piece is there are racial tensions that have been and continue to be at play, and our students show up with all of those things,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “Not only the impact of the pandemic, but this other backdrop, and we want to make sure that we don’t ignore that.”

How much real-life contact the interns will have with the K-12 students depends on whether COVID causes a return to online-only education. Either way, every student from UConn will meet their field supervisor weekly, Heller said, and interface with students however possible.

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Adria was CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters. Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria was one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.

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