Social Worker Feature: Melissa Mendez, ITC
Published on 3/10/17
District News ITC
ITC social worker Melissa Mendez didn’t like high school when she was a student at Corcoran. She had a negative experience with a school counselor, who she felt didn’t believe that she could succeed.
After working as a hairstylist for years, she noted the irony that she felt a calling to go to college and become a high school social worker – for none other than her home district, the SCSD. While she couldn’t wait to get out of high school as a student, as an adult, she couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I knew I wanted to make an impact,” Ms. Mendez said of her decision to become a social worker in the SCSD. “This is where I come from. Now, I feel like I get to make a difference. I want to make sure that none of my kids have a negative experience.”
She notes that honesty and planning are two of her key points when she meets with students.
“If a kid says he wants to be an astronaut, I say, ‘okay. Let’s look at it,’” she explained. “Are they likely to become an astronaut? Probably not. I want to be honest with them but at the same time support them and help them see the path they would need to take to get where they want to be.”
Ms. Mendez hopes that her own personal experience can serve as an example for her students. “I didn’t go to college until later in life,” she said. “Everyone’s path can be different. They don’t have to be in a box to be successful… they can be who they are.”
To drive home this ‘be who you are’ message to all students, Ms. Mendez hopes to find ways to help connect students with each other. For instance, when she learned of a student who was having trouble with social interaction, she got to know the student and the student’s interests. She was soon able to start a social group of sorts where three students now get to know each other and grow through their personal challenges. She is also working with the school’s Auto Tech teacher in hopes of bringing the Building Men program to ITC, as well as with an English teacher to see about bringing a similar program for female students.
This desire to help support students as they grow into themselves stems from her own experience as a city school student and the stereotypes that often come with that label.
“I may be older, but I’m still relatable to them,” Ms. Mendez said. “I look like some of them. I grew up where they did and in similar circumstances. Sometimes, students will say, ‘You don’t understand me.’ I rattle off ten stories about how I really do. I want them to know that there’s nothing wrong from coming from this – from Syracuse and the city schools. They’re all powerful and they can get through whatever they’re going through!”
Thank you, Ms. Mendez, for all you do!