Yelm social worker best in state

Fort Stevens Elementary School’s Ann Robbins awarded social worker of the year

lpemberton@theolympian.comDecember 10, 2012 

Fort Stevens Elementary School intervention specialist Ann Robbins was recently named School Social Worker of the Year by the Washington Association of School Social Workers.

Robbins, 54, has worked at the 520-student school in Yelm for roughly 13 years.

“There’s no entity or figure at our school that ties so many pieces of our school together,” said principal Scot Embrey. “She has an absolutely heart of gold and she goes above her daily tasks to meet the needs of students and families.”

The Olympian talked to Robbins about her career and the award. Here are excerpts of the conversation:

Question: Where did you go to college and what did you study?

Answer: I have a bachelor’s in speech communications and psychology from Bethel College in Minnesota, and a master’s in social work (MSW) from the University of Minnesota.

Q: What does an intervention specialist do?

A: We help address things that are getting in the way of a child learning. That can be having a bad day, or being discouraged about their learning. It could be basic needs like they didn’t have breakfast or they don’t have shoes. It can be things like their dad went to jail last night.

I do a lot of short-term counseling and family counseling. I teach classes about bullying prevention and drug and alcohol prevention. I also have social skills and deployment support groups.

Q: How did you get into your profession?

A: I kind of entered through the back door. When I got my MSW, I focused on family and children services. I began with a job at a mental health center in Puyallup. The center contracted its services, and I spent a lot of time in schools.

In the early 1990s, districts were starting to hire school social workers. I was able to get a job in Eatonville, and I went back and got an educational staff associate credential.

It was a very good fit for me.

I worked in the Eatonville School District for five years, and the Centralia School District for five years before I began this job.

Q: How has your job changed over the years?

A: When I first started, we spent a lot of time in education talking about “what was wrong with the kid.”

And then, there was a whole shift in philosophy in the mid- to late-’90s where we started talking about children’s strengths, and how we can support them and their families.

Now, it’s “Let’s talk about how to make school and life go better for them.”

It’s much more successful that way.

Also, when I came into the profession, teachers were very willing for me to see kids at anytime. Now, there’s such a strong academic focus, teachers are more mindful about the time they send kids. They don’t want them to miss the major academics, and that’s good.

The other change is that there used to be more resources for kids. There’s really been a tightening of mental health services for kids, especially those in poverty.

Q: What do you enjoy about working in schools?

A: I’m very passionate about preventive mental health for kids. … I feel I like I’m able to intervene with kids’ mental health needs when they are younger so they don’t carry those on into adulthood.

Kids are very resilient, and when you help them, they are responsive. They leave my office happier, and it’s just a privilege to be able to help kids out.

Q: Tell us about the award.

A: It is from the Washington Association of School Social Workers.

There’s a plaque and a small stipend that I’m going to use to buy something to use with the kids. It’s just an honor to be recognized for the hard work we do.

I feel lucky. I love my job and I love kids, and that makes it easy for me.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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