FAIR School honored for social work partnership

Updated: May 18, 2017 - 10:18 am

The FAIR School received an award for its social work partnership with local colleges and universities earlier this spring.

The grades 1–3 and 9–12 school in Downtown Minneapolis received the Bronze Star of Innovation award from the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals. It was one of 29 schools to receive an award and the only in the Minneapolis school district.

FAIR hosts students in master’s of social work programs, who work 15–20 hours a week at the school. The graduate students do everything from one-on-one counseling and crisis intervention to hosting social skills groups and academic coaching.

The school has 10 interns this year from five programs: Minnesota, Augsburg, St. Thomas/St. Kate’s, St. Cloud State and Metro State. The students receive school credit for their work but are not paid.

The program began in 2009 when licensed social worker Kayci Rush started working at FAIR. Rush had been part of a project at the University of Minnesota Medical School that used interns and decided to bring the model to FAIR.

“I think high school students can relate easier and faster to (graduate students),” she said. “Graduate students just seemed able to develop rapport with students much faster than typical staff.”

Rush said mental health issues have gotten dramatically worse since the Great Recession. She said she’s seeing more post-traumatic stress among kids born around 2008, 2009 and 2010, some of whom have already experienced prolonged periods of homelessness.

She said 42 percent of FAIR’s students in grades 9–12 are diagnosed with a mental health condition. About one-third of its high school students require special education services because of their mental health conditions, and eight percent are homeless at any one time, Rush said.

“You can’t do homework if you’re living in your car,” she said, adding that it’s extremely embarrassing for a high school student to be homeless.

The 10 interns provide the school with the equivalent of three full-time positions worth of work. It would cost the school $75,000 for a first-year social worker, Rush said, so the program effectively saves the school about $225,000 annually.

Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director Dave Adney said the FAIR program is innovative in the way it uses resources. He added that the program could be replicated in other districts.

Other award-winning programs this year included a career academy at Bemidji High School, a “wall of hope” at Virginia High School and a life-story project at Foston High School, Adney said.

Brianna Lamoso, a first-year graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s social work program, said she’s learned the value of seeing the same clients for a whole year by working at FAIR. “I’m learning I feel like a deeper picture of who they are,” she said.

Lamoso has a caseload of four high school students and four third-graders. She said it’s taken a while to gain the students’ trust and that she’s gained a greater appreciation for working in a school.

The FAIR School is hoping to add more therapeutic services such as a licensed social worker within the building, Rush said. It’s also aiming to get kids more support over the summer.