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MCPS Earns Honors in the 2024 Magna Awards for Well-Being Social Work

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) recently awarded the MCPS well-being social worker program a Silver Magna Award. The Magna Awards spotlight innovative programs that are making a difference for students and the communities where they live. 

The following article was shared in the American School Board Journal magazine April issue detailing the work and evidence of success at MCPS: 

In March 2021, it was announced that school resource officers (SROs) would be removed from Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) for the following school year. In addition, it was determined that a large population of the student body did not have adequate access to social and emotional resources, unless previously identified as receiving specialized educational supports.

Well-Being Social Workers serve all students and focus on supporting the needs of the most marginalized populations. All 26 high schools were assigned a full-time Well-Being Social Worker, six were assigned centrally to support elementary and middle school needs, and a supervisor was appointed to lead this team. The first Well-Being Social Worker was hired in February 2022.

To date, there are 43 full-time Well-Being Social Workers and one supervisor: 26 are assigned to high schools; 10 are assigned centrally to provide on-going support to elementary and middle schools via regular in-school counseling support, or as-needed consultation; eight provide direct support to middle schools.

Innovation: Prior to the development of the Well-Being Social Workers, there had not been a targeted approach to addressing the complex mental health needs of the broader student population. Therefore, because of post-pandemic needs, as well as a pullback of SROs, the district developed an initiative to provide direct services for mental health supports. Although Well-Being Social Workers support the needs of all students, much of their work is addressing the needs of students within marginalized populations to provide alternatives to suspensions to reduce disproportionality.

An internal Well-Being Social Work workgroup developed a referral process, including a referral form, and identified the documentation that is used to develop treatment plans and monitor ongoing student progress. Social workers are member of the School Well-Being Team (SWBT) —a multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving the academic, mental health, and behavioral needs of students.

Evidence of success: Well-Being Social Workers were formed at the start of the 2022-23 school year and by the end of that school year, 4,693 students were supported by a social worker. For the 2023-24 school year, there have been 1,794 students that have accessed the support of a social worker, which is a significant increase. Additionally, at the middle school level, there is preliminary evidence of a reduction in suspensions, specifically with students who are among the Black/African American and Latino populations.

The Well-Being Social Workers are aligned with the Restorative Justice (RJ) Unit. With the implementation of Well-Being Social Workers and a strong partnership with RJ, the district also is addressing disproportionate suspensions of Black/African American and Hispanic students. As of October 2023, there has been a 41% decrease in Black/African American student suspensions at focus schools that have an RJ Instructional Specialist and/or a Well-Being Social Worker.