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You can see Mrs. Jonanna Garcia's heart when she talks about her love for social work

Your everyday neighborhood public school has many moving parts. From the custodial staff that are the first to open the doors, making sure the physical building is prepared for staff and students, to child nutrition, who ensure our students are fed, there are many adults needed to make sure the tiny microsome of the community runs smoothly.

The needs of the overall student are vast. And sometimes, the impact of what occurs outside the schoolhouse gates comes onto the campus. It’s no longer what just happens inside the physical classroom.

Enter the social worker, who ensures that both the teacher and student have the resources to tackle all the student’s social-emotional needs - physical, emotional, and mental.

With both a Bachelor of Social Work and a Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, Mrs. Joanna Garcia is one of those adults who are vital in ensuring a campus runs smoothly.

“I'm a firm believer that everybody has emotional needs that need to be addressed,” Garcia said. “Some people are more resilient than others and some have a hard time being able to cope with their unfulfilled needs. So, I think I have a great opportunity to be here because I get to help the students and my community.”

She has worked at every level possible: middle school, high school, and even in a hospital. However, she was drawn to our babies - there was something special about working with elementary students.

“I feel like my passion is working with kids because there's still a lot of hope for change. If we can give them the right skills and the proper support, they can overcome anything and be able to achieve academic success,” Garcia said.

One part of her responsibilities is to provide in-classroom lessons on social-emotional learning at Park Village Blended Learning Academy, giving students the skills necessary to handle emotions.

“It’s just like academics,” Garcia said. “We teach them how to learn reading and math. But no one teaches you how to cope with things. And I feel like we're in the perfect role to be able to instill that to our kids."

One of the biggest differences in the different grade levels is how elementary students express themselves, versus their older counterparts.

“Elementary kids speak a lot through their behavior. They don't use words as much as I've noticed when I work with older students,” Garcia said. “With middle school and high school students, they're at an age where they're more verbal and able to express their needs.”

She mentioned one of the roles of the social worker is to understand human needs - whether those are inside or outside the classroom. Either way, they are a tool to assist parents and community members as we work together for the betterment of our students.

“It is a partnership for us to better serve. We have to partner up and be able to help our students together,” Garcia said. “It's not like a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all situation. Everyone's so unique. Everyone has different personalities, and we have to personalize everyone’s education.”

The work can be heavy. However, her husband Fred of 16 years and her two kids ensure she is supported in her mission to better the Bulldog community.

“My family knows the demand that it entails. If there are things that I have to do outside of work, which happens a lot. They are supportive,” Garica said. “They know how passionate I am. They know I take pride in my job.”

Her pride and drive for social work are not done. She is currently working on her Clinical Social Work certification, the highest level of licensure one can achieve in the social work discipline.

According to the National Association of Social Work, the certification “focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral disturbances.” The main difference between clinical and direct social workers is what they are legally allowed to do. All social workers can connect clients with resources and offer guidance through difficult situations, but only licensed clinical social workers can provide counseling.

“Obtaining my clinical license has been a dream of mine. I will have more resources under my belt to provide more skills. Even though I work with students in small groups and provide skills, I feel that it will give me a larger knowledge base,” Garcia said.

When talking to Mrs. Garcia, you can see her heart. There is a love she has for ensuring that every student not only has the skills to navigate life’s emotions but also has the skills to be the healthiest version of themselves, socially and emotionally.

“I love that the school is that safe place where my Bulldog friends can reach out to me and I have that opportunity to be of support in achieving student success,” Garcia said.

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