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School social worker: What I do and how much I make

Estefania Alves, a School Social Worker and Clinical Coordinator at Dearborn STEM Academy, earns $120,000 annually. She supports 380 students, focusing on their mental health to ensure they're ready to learn. She collaborates with a team to identify and address student issues, using empathy and cultural competency. Her additional role as a BUILD teacher involves entrepreneurship education.

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Video transcript

My name is Estefania Alves, I am 32 years old, and I am a School Social Worker and Clinical Coordinator at the Dearborn STEM Academy in Dorchester; I make $120,000 a year, and $102,000 of that is for my position as a School Social Worker, and another, the $18,500 left is for my position as the BUILD teacher, and BUILD is an entrepreneurship program that is a part of the school. The Dearborn STEM Academy is a school with 380 students, we have students in grade six through 12, we just graduated our first Senior class this year; we focus on STEM, Science, Technology, Engineer and Mathematics, and we have students from all over the city, and also they are immigrants, they are Spanish-speaking, Cape Verdean Creole speaking, a whole different set of backgrounds, very diverse. I am responsible for all 380 students that walk through the Dearborn doors, however, do I meet with 380 everyday or all the time? No; each year, I probably have a set of maybe 65 students that I work with closely; my main role and my priority here is to help students with their mental health, there are a lot of different dynamics in the community and their lives, in situations that happen that affect their day to day living. There's other triggers in the school, outside of the school, so I need to ensure that they're here and they're mentally prepared to receive their education, that is my number one priority, no matter what the issue is, whether it's homelessness, whether it's poverty, whether it's an immigration issue, whether it's a school issue, a conflict with the student, whatever it is, I need to make sure that they're mentally here and present to receive their education. The typical project for me would be working with the student support team, which includes the Guidance Counselors, the school Psychologist, the school Dean, the school Student Support Coordinator, the Nurse; to pinpoint certain issues that a student might be experiencing based on data that we are looking at, for example, we might look at attendance and see that a student has come into school tardy every day of the week, or that a student has been out 10 times in the last 25 days, that, right there is an indicator that something might be happening. We look at students who maybe are not dressed properly, maybe coming in a little disheveled, that's another indicator; students who are not focusing in class, that would be an indicator of maybe a student who has some type of disability, or some type of issue that is not allowing them to focus in class at the moment. We have to figure out how do we best address each student situation, and each situation requires a different strategy; to do this job properly, you definitely need some cultural competency, because I support students who come from all different backgrounds, and nationalities, so you want to make sure that you understand them and their background a little bit in order to best serve them. Additionally, you need to show empathy, compassion, be open-minded, be non-judgemental; sometimes I find that the best way to build a relationship with these students is to get on their level, I think I benefit from that a little bit, because I have younger siblings, so I like to say I'm "hip," sometimes (laughing) that definitely helps me, having younger siblings, so being able to understand the world that they live in now, the era that they're living in, and supporting them based on the struggles and the way the world revolves around them at this time. It's not, you know, I like to say I'm still young at heart, but the way I grew up is totally different from the way that they grew up; sure, we grew up in the same community, but I didn't grow up with social media. It's just creating a host of different problems that come into the school, and that's their reality, so I need to understand their reality. So I make 120,000 annually, and I think that's a result of the amount of years I have put in the district, I'm going into my eighth year, and also because I have two Master's Degrees; in Boston Public Schools, you get compensated based on the amount of years you have in the district and the amount of education credits, so that's why I'm at 120,000, but realistically, I'm at 102,000 in Boston Public Schools, because the other $18,500 comes from my BUILD pay, so I get paid 18,500 for this program, and I probably invest about 15 hours a week or more. The 15 hours is split between my teaching, my preparing to teach, staying after school with the students, and in meetings with BUILD staff, sometimes it's more than 15 hours, or in competition season, I'm after school on extra days, manufacturing with the students, making sure they're prepared for their presentation, taking them shopping, so anywhere from about 15 to about 25 hours a week. Definitely not worth the money, but the outcome is well worth it; I make an additional $7,000 a year at this particular school, because we're currently in turnaround status, which means that we have more professional development hours to meet, so we get compensated for the extra professional development hours, and for the extra school day hour that we have embedded into our schedule, so a turnaround school typically will make a little bit over 7,000 extra in cash. The most difficult part of my job is being in the middle of situations where I have no control of, so they often involve issues of things that have already happened, for example, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or issues where Department of Children and Families are involved, and the family's broken up as a result of something that already happened, or even when a child is homeless, and I can't immediately stabilize them; it's a process. So I think those are the issues that affect me the most, sometimes I go home, I think about it, I know that I can't save every single child, but just that extra level of concern, it's over my head, often and I try to do the best that I can in the most time-effective way, but it's not always the best outcome. But I think I most enjoy seeing progress in the students that I work with, oftentimes they don't believe in themselves, or other people already have judgemental attitudes towards them, so being able to see growth, no matter how small, is really important, because acknowledging to the student that you've seen their growth goes a long way, they need that to push them, and you'll see the students continue to make incremental changes, and over time, by the end of the year, it's like wow, you know, you're not where most people would want you to be, but you've come a long way. And I think once they get to a certain point, they have some of the skills to keep going and get even further, so I think that's what's important, and it takes time, not everyone will notice it all the time, but because I work with the students often, I notice it, and I'm often the first to point it out to them, and I make sure that I speak to their teachers, and say hey, you know, miss so-and-so actually saw that you've been making progress, also, so if the teachers don't say it to them, I make sure that I say it for the teachers. She's way different from other teachers; some teachers you can't even have a conversation with, 'cause they're so serious, but Miss Alves, she knows when to be serious and when to be outgoing with students. She's my second Mom, she represents my Mom here, she was my teacher when I was a Freshman, then she became my Counselor, and she's still by my side. Looking at her and the way she is, her character, how she faces a situation made you feel like you want to be like her.