Social Worker Feature: Amy Phinney, Westside Academy at Blodgett

     Published on 3/8/17   Tagged under:    District News    Westside Academy at Blodgett   

After serving as a teaching assistant in Pre-K for 10 years, Amy Phinney is now in her second year as a social worker at Westside Academy at Blodgett.
 
“It dawned on me one day as a Pre-K TA that the whole family needs support, not just the students,” Ms. Phinney recalled of the decision that led her to return to school for five years as she concurrently worked full time.
 
Now, her days consist of home visits, counseling, therapy, handling DASA and bullying complaints and more.
 
“It’s a roller coaster ride,” she said. “It’s challenging, stressful, heartbreaking and rewarding.”
 
For Ms. Phinney, days usually start with bus duty or student check-ins. She catches up with students, inquiring about a potential personality clash with a teacher or a personal issue with a fellow student. But ultimately, her goal is simple: to start students’ days by showing them a smiling face.
 
While reviewing students’ check in charts, she listens as students explain how they rated themselves on appropriate behavior, being prepared for class and more. When students meet their daily goals, they are able to select a reward from her book shelf – their choice of a piece of candy. When students meet their goals each day for a week, they get a reward upgrade: anything from nail polish to small toys, games and craft items. These small tokens, she said, have helped students connect with her.
 
“The kids seem to respond well to me,” she said. “Once that door of comfortability opens, the students trust. Adults don’t realize how easy it is to start these relationships with students. You just have to be relatable and show that you care.”
 
Beyond her standard responsibilities as a social worker, Ms. Phinney has immersed herself in the school’s culture. She attends all Westside Initiative meetings to keep apprised of family and neighborhood events. She has brought families into SIT meetings, allowing everyone to be involved in creating a student’s plan. “Doing so shows that we all have a common interest at heart: the child,” she said.
 
“I represent the students and the families here,” Ms. Phinney explained. “I’m here to support the students. There are so many parents who want to be involved at this level. Our parents really show up… they appreciate being included.”
 
In the school’s first year implementing a uniform policy, Ms. Phinney has also taken it upon herself to create a ‘clothing closet’ for students and families. Thanks to donations from Clothes Mentor and private schools like CBA, an unused classroom now looks like a boutique, boasting tables, shelves and racks full of attire for those in need. Students can stop by, accompanied by any staff member, to select a shirt, pants, shoes, toiletries – even formal attire and a growing selection of sporting equipment like helmets and baseball gloves.
 
“I sometimes say: everything I need to know, I learned in Pre-K,” Ms. Phinney said. “There, you learn the importance of empathy and compassion. These kids aren’t so different – they’re just bigger!”
 
Thank you, Ms. Phinney, for all you do!