Katelyn Thompson, LSW, has what she calls an impact word. That word is love.
SAM Executive Director of Special Education Erica Richley-Duda describes the word as “perfectly fitting” for the Summit Academy Secondary School – Middletown behavior specialist. Richley-Duda, MSEd, LPCC-S, CCTP, says Thompson’s love for her work is evident in her “whole-student approach and desire to understand and press-in to see beyond external behavior.”
Thompson recently graduated with a Master of Social Work degree. She is one of 16 licensed social workers who serve as behavior specialists and performance coaches for Summit Academy Schools. As social workers, they deliver specialized clinical expertise that speaks directly to serving students and their families. They do this on an individualized basis, with empathy and understanding, and with the ability to see students’ bigger pictures, Richley-Duda explains.
This month, Social Work Month, Summit Academy is paying tribute to its outstanding behavior specialists, performance coaches and other staff social workers. As social workers, they are part of the largest group of mental health care providers in the country, according to the National Association of Social Workers.
Summit Academy has long been a frontrunner in employing social workers as critical members of its school staffs, says SAM CEO John Guyer. Their proficiency in understanding and exploring the roots of children’s behavior guide school decisions on how students can be best served.
Thompson describes children’s behavior as a form of communication. She spends time teaching students and staff about the importance of relationships, what trauma looks like and how to address skills that are absent rather than take ineffective shortcuts. Think about the age-old norm of sending a disruptive student to the office. Instead, the social worker takes a closer look at that disruptive child to assess home life, trauma, special needs and other factors that might come into play to explain and navigate through that behavior.
Lisa Hall, MSW, LSW, Behavior Specialist and Performance Coach for Summit Academy Transition High School – Columbus, adds that social workers serve others by helping them see their potential.
“There are times that an individual may not recognize his or her potential and I love helping them recognize it,” Hall says. “Once they buy into the idea that they can succeed, that they can overcome, that they can make a difference, then my work as a social worker is partially fulfilled. I am fulfilled when I see them reach just one of their goals. Whether it be a goal of getting a C in a class or starting their own business, they have accomplished their goal and that makes everything that I do worth doing.”
In the same spirit, Summit Academy Community and Middle School – Columbus Behavior Specialist Rebecca St. Clair, LSW, says she is inspired by the students she serves.
“Being able to watch them learn and grow so much over the time I spend with them is so inspirational. I get to support them through their journey while also seeing them develop confidence in themselves,” says St. Clair, noting that she aspires to instill students with a level of self-confidence that will sustain them long-term.
Currently pursuing her graduate degree in social work from Ohio University, St. Clair has been described as a dedicated and compassionate advocate for students. She is known for putting her knack for problem solving to work collaboratively with her team to come up with creative solutions to support students’ needs.
Another way St. Clair and her fellow social workers help students and families is by breaking barriers that would otherwise prevent them from achieving improved overall well-being. In keeping with the 2023 Social Work Month theme, “Social Work Breaks Barriers,” Bonita Shumpert, LSW, Behavior Specialist for Summit Academy Community School – Parma, starts that process by building strong, trustworthy relationships.
“When meeting with a student or parent initially the key for me is to begin building a positive relationship with them so they feel comfortable enough to eventually identify barriers, issues or concerns that they may have versus the barriers that I see or assume that they may have,” explains Shumpert.
Through dojo messages, calls and positive notes sent home, Shumpert nurtures her relationships with students and families. From this starting point she branches out to build a positive support system that includes teachers, staff and other students who will help advocate on a student’s behalf, offer strength and support, and work together to break down barriers as a team, she explains.
“I love being able to work with students to help them realize their full potential and recognize new opportunities for growth and change every day,” Shumpert says.
It’s no surprise that social work can trace a large part of its origins to Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Star who, in 1889, opened Hull House in Chicago to provide social services to the area, which had a large immigrant population. Other social work pioneers include anti-lynching advocate and women’s rights activist Ida B. Wells and George Edmund Haynes, a social worker who co-founded the National Urban League.
“Social workers have helped drive significant, positive changes globally,” says Richley-Duda. “Summit Academy is truly fortunate to have such a strong team of behavior specialists and performance coaches who want to serve students and their families so they can live their best lives.”
Summit Academy thanks Catherine (Carey) Anderson, Stephanie Barnes, Tabbatha Bennett, Suzanne (Sue) Carpenter, Erica Kiphart/Crisp, Jamie Curtis, Laurie Dunning, Lisa R. Hall, Andrea May, Tiffany Newman, Bonita Shumpert Katherine Sittinger, Rebecca St. Clair, Triana Szep, Katelyn Katie Thompson, Maria Kotsatos-Winbush and its other dedicated staff social workers.