Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) and the New York City Public Schools’ New Visions and Central Offices have embarked on an innovative partnership to revolutionize school social work. The “Fordham GSS/NYC Public Schools Collaborative” (the Collaborative) combines the expertise and resources of both institutions to build a strong workforce of school social workers equipped with the knowledge and skills to make a meaningful impact on NYC students’ lives.
Starting this semester, the Collaborative will consist of 45 Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) student interns from Fordham GSS, placed in various public schools across all five NYC boroughs. Each student will receive focused coursework centered around school social work, personalized advising from full-time field specialists, and a scholarship award. Fordham GSS plans to continue the program’s expansion in the future.
“Partnerships have always been incredibly important to our mission as a school for over 107 years,” said Debra M. McPhee, Ph.D., dean of the Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. “This is a unique opportunity for our students to meet the needs of children and families in the NYC Public Schools’ system in a new way.”
Solving the School Social Worker Shortage
The program seeks to solve the increasing demand for school social workers in NYC and across the country.
Roger Ball, Ph.D., GSS ’02 and supervisor of school social workers at NYC Public Schools, sees first-hand the impact school social workers have on the students and the school’s environment.
“Schools have long prized themselves on academics—they believe that a good education is about reading, writing, and problem-solving,” Ball said. “Now, we’re realizing that the social and emotional side of our development is just as critically important.”
Margaret Fleming, who works in student support services at New Visions and helped match Fordham M.S.W. students to their internships in the Collaborative, said schools jumped at the opportunity to participate in the partnership.
“We had an overwhelming response from our schools,” she said, “with more than half of our 60 schools requesting at least one intern.”
The role of a school social worker cannot be understated. The position is integral to an academic support system shaping and molding the malleable young minds who represent the country’s future.
What is that role? According to the National Association of Social Workers, school social workers provide support to students in the following ways:
“School social workers are an integral link between school, home, and community in helping students achieve academic success. They work directly with school administrations as well as students and families, providing leadership in forming school discipline policies, mental health intervention, crisis management, and support services.
As part of an interdisciplinary team to help students succeed, school social workers also facilitate community involvement in the schools while advocating for student success.”
Ball has worked with Fordham GSS administration and professors to ensure that each student in the Collaborative can learn the exact tools and skills needed to succeed in the NYC public school system. He sees the Collaborative as a holistic approach to training students with a well-rounded educational experience, knowing they will be confident practitioners ready to take on the work after graduation.
In addition, the work M.S.W. students complete in their field placements within the school system will help inform the theory taught in their graduate-level courses. This conversation between theory and practice, Ball said, is truly unique.
“What’s really exciting is the conversation, the marrying, and the bridging between the field placement and looking at curriculum,” he said. “These emerging professionals will have the kind of wrap-around services that will have an indelible mark on not only their practice but also the clients they will be working with.”
Working alongside Ball and spearheading the Collaborative from Fordham GSS is Dr. Janna Heyman, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Henry C. Ravazzin Center on Aging and Intergenerational Studies at Fordham. Heyman played a large role in the planning and implementation of the Collaborative. She continues leading new grant initiatives with local organizations, like the Goddard Riverside Community Center, keeping her finger on the pulse of NYC’s needs. Heyman knew Fordham could provide a great solution to the growing school social worker market.
“Fordham GSS is in the forefront, providing M.S.W. students with a rich blend of educational and experiential programming so they are prepared to make a difference in the lives of students,” Heyman said. “We feel it is vital to focus on addressing the unmet needs and preparing the field for the future.”
The First of Its Kind, the Future of the Profession
When a program has the potential for this much impact, it’s important to have buy-in from everyone involved. Fleming noted that New Visions, headed by Superintendent Richard Cintron, sees the incredible outcomes it can produce.
“For the first time in the history of public education, we were able to facilitate the placement of approximately 50 social work interns from one university with wrap-around supports for all stakeholders,” she said. “The Superintendent of New Visions, Richard Cintron, wholeheartedly believes in the value that social workers have to the entire school community and student success.”
Foundational to the program’s success, Fleming said, is the connection formed between Fordham’s M.S.W. interns and students in the NYC public school system. This all starts with the humility that even a graduate student at one of the best programs in the country can learn from the youth.
“[The M.S.W. interns] need to come with a willingness to learn with and from our students, take initiative on tasks, and support with gaps in services,” Fleming said. “We want students to truly integrate and immerse themselves into the school community for a holistic learning experience. Most importantly, we look for those who are able to connect with students and develop authentic relationships.”
Fleming added that the large need for these services allowed her to work with M.S.W. students to match placements to their career aspirations and goals.
“With the number of interested school sites across our five boroughs,” Fleming said, “we were able to match the incoming interns based on their interests like specific grade levels, commuting distance, and specific skills.”
Additional Benefits of the Collaborative
Along with the main coursework and field placement offered to students throughout the Collaborative, Fordham GSS is committed to offering one Seminar Training in Field Instruction (SIFI) specifically for NYC Public Schools’ field instructors (supervisors) who will advise students throughout the program. This training will ensure field instructors provide the proper feedback, support, and mentorship students need to succeed as future school social workers in their placements and the workforce. NYC public school social workers who meet the requirements have been given access to early registration for the training.
“Fordham GSS is happy to offer this training for instructors,” said Linda White-Ryan, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Fordham GSS. “SIFI training is critical to enable instructors to successfully supervise M.S.W. students. These instructors will help students apply what they’re learning in classes to develop the skills needed to become professional social workers who address the needs of children, families, and communities in the New York City school system.”
Additionally, Fordham GSS has collaborated with the New Visions to develop a proposal for the Federal Bureau of Justice Safety Training Grant of $880,778 for the ATTAIN Academy. If funded, this proposal will train school personnel and educate students in 10 selected schools on critical areas such as bullying, substance misuse and disorders, and suicide risks and prevention through a trauma-informed lens, creating a safe and supportive environment for all.
The Fordham GSS/NYC Public Schools Collaborative represents a transformative partnership reshaping the school social work landscape. By combining educational excellence, personalized support, and innovative initiatives, this partnership equips students with the tools they need to address the evolving needs of students in the school system. Together, the Collaborative is fostering a brighter future for the students of New York City and beyond.