USC Social Work partners with local school districts

Local school district Lawndale Elementary School District, just southeast of the Los Angeles International Airport, has partnered with the USC School of Social Work to provide a Social Work Intern Program for master’s students at universities in the region.

Initiated in the fall of 2013 by Director of Student Support Services Jorge Arroyo and District Social Worker Maria Ruelas, the program is now in its third year and is proving to be mutually beneficial to USC and other universities’ master’s students seeking job experience in the social work field, as well as to the elementary school students who need counseling and other services. In fact, LESD was recently recognized by USC School of Social Work faculty as “Agency of the Year” for the assistance they provide for young schoolchildren and the real-life career training they provide for university students seeking experience in the field.

“Receiving the USC School of Social Work Agency of the Year Award is a true testament to our hard work and dedication to provide high quality and enriching experiences for graduate-level interns,” Ruelas said.

In just three years since the program’s institution, LESD now hosts eight school site social workers and more than 10 community mental health agencies as part of their Student Support Services program.  Focusing on individual counseling, group counseling and parent workshops in the fields of health, attendance and behavior interventions, LESD social workers and social work interns have proved themselves to be invaluable to the students they serve. Besides their reception of awards like USC School of Social Work’s Agency of the Year award, LESD Intern Program’s success is also evident in areas like mental health. For example, the counseling, workshops and other preventative measures practiced in the program have reduced waitlists to mental health providers in the Lawndale community and have reduced behavioral issues inside and outside the classroom.

Beginning with only eight interns in the 2013-2014 academic year, LESD currently hosts 56 interns from USC and other local universities like Loyola Marymount University, Cal State Long Beach, California State University, Dominguez Hills and California State University Fullerton, among others. These interns currently help service around 200 elementary school students and families in the district. These future social workers are helping to expand community access to mental health for children and giving back to the local community through their honorable service.

“Although we have grown rather quickly, we have not compromised the quality of our program and this is what sets us apart,” Ruelas said. “We invest in our interns in hopes that they not only impact the Lawndale community but also the social work profession at large.”

Recent USC master’s student alumna Sylvia Ukwu interned at LESD for two years and was thankful for the experience she received.

“I gained experience in micro, mezzo, and macro levels, making me a confident social worker. It was a challenging internship placement but I came out learning so much about myself and the social work profession,” Ukwu said.

Since the program’s inception, LESD has “been able to more effectively meet the social, emotional, behavioral and overall basic needs of students” by expanding access to group and individual counseling, helping to improve attendance rates and engaging parents in the education process, ensuring a better future for their young students, according to a press release issued by LESD.