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Social work partnership seeks to promote safety in Hartford schools

by Kenneth Best - October 17, 2005

The School of Social Work is collaborating with the Hartford Public Schools in a federally sponsored program that is being viewed as a national model to promote healthy childhood development and safety in schools.

UConn is a partner with Hartford schools in the Safe Schools/Healthy Schools initiative that aims to reduce alcohol and drug use and violence among the city’s youth through training and providing social work services throughout the Hartford Public School system. UConn graduate students are participating in field education internships under the supervision of faculty at the School of Social Work.

Safe Schools/Healthy Schools has six elements to develop healthy, well-educated students who attend safe and community-friendly schools, including the substance abuse and violence prevention component being implemented by UConn. The six components of the plan work together to move the school district and the community towards the development of “full service schools” that meet the needs of students and their families. The other components are mental health services, early childhood education, educational reform, and development of safe school policies. The program is funded by a three-year, $9 million U.S. Department of Education grant.

The focus of the UConn partnership is the enhancement and expansion of the Student and Family Assistance Centers as a resource for help. The centers are designed to document the nature and extent of problems faced by the school community and to build on the individual, family, school, and community assets to best meet students’ needs.

Quirk Middle School is one of Hartford’s largest schools and has become the leading model for the school district’s Safe Schools/ Healthy Students program. At Quirk in a single academic year there were 1,660 student referrals, more than 300 peer mediations, and more than 250 conflict resolutions with youngsters. Two other middle schools, two high schools, and several elementary schools in Hartford also have become part of the program, says Catherine Havens, associate dean of social work.

Social work graduate students work with students and educators in the Hartford Public Schools to promote safety, as part of a federally funded program.
Social work graduate students work with students and educators in the Hartford Public Schools to promote safety, as part of a federally funded program.
Photo by Paul Horton

“It’s been challenging for our students,” says Havens, “It’s been a good learning experience for them and one in which they’ve felt they’ve made a contribution to making the lives of these children in the schools better and safer.”

Havens says UConn students are gaining valuable, first-hand field experience by working together, exchanging information about their experiences, and being involved in the community. Graduate students spend nearly 600 hours during the academic year in field education work, learning about the resources available in the community and how to connect them with families.

Leah O’Neill Fichtner, director of the program for Hartford schools, says the program partners presented details of their work to a national conference of secondary school administrators and have been asked to host a meeting to advise other communities about the program.

Fichtner says the partnership has not only helped keep Hartford students safer, but has also given the school system an opportunity to see some of UConn’s top students, and to recruit some of them for positions after graduation.

She says the children in Hartford “benefit most of all.”  

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