The everyday commitment of a social worker doesn’t stop when situations change. Though the global COVID-19 pandemic has altered educational environments, those dedicated to serving the needs of students find ways to continue that support. One Tulane University School of Social Work graduate student used her creativity to convert her own van into a literacy lifeline for children in Mississippi.
Andrea Germany, LMSW, has been working as a school social worker in Meridian, Mississippi for almost 20 years, and just started her third semester in our online Doctorate of Social Work program. “On Friday, March 6, our school district released for Spring Break with no idea that it would be the last time we would see our students at school for the 2019-2020 school year,” Andrea says. “As we were preparing to return from Spring Break, the Mississippi Department of Education temporarily closed schools to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.”
The school system Andrea works for is a Title I district with over 95% of its students currently living below the federal poverty line. “We were immediately concerned about food insecurity for our students who typically receive breakfast and lunch at school,” she says. “We partnered with Boys & Girls Club and packed ‘grab and go’ lunches for parents to drive through and pick up.”
With so many of the district’s families lacking transportation, Andrea’s team began taking the lunches into their students' neighborhoods. “As we were handing out sack lunches, I talked with students and asked how they were staying busy, what they were doing, and what they were reading,” she says.
That is when Andrea realized her students weren’t reading. “I did some research and found that 61% of low income families have no children's books in their homes,” she says. “So, I began a book drive, collected books with the United Way of East Mississippi and the East Mississippi Hub for Volunteers, and turned my car into a ‘bookmobile’ that followed the food deliveries into the neighborhoods.”
Andrea’s creativity and quick action to create her “Swaggerwagon” book mobile enabled children to grab books at the same time they were getting their lunches. “I’ve had so much fun doing this, and it has been a great way for me to still check-in on my students during this time,” she says.
To make sure that students' academic needs are met, her team has also delivered "enrichment curriculum packets" to those students who don't have access to the resources online. “It's been a challenge, as Lauderdale County has had one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection and the highest number of coronavirus related deaths in Mississippi, and we are still handling situations as they arise,” she says. “But, we have a wonderful staff, and we are dedicated to helping the children of Meridian.”
Partnering with local churches, Andrea has also supported the distribution of food packages to other food-insecure families.
Andrea’s parents inspired her to help others as a career. “Both of my parents are wonderful examples of what the field of social work strives for,” she says. “Although they aren’t social workers by profession, they are true ‘people helpers.’”
Being adopted and having experience with the child welfare system allowed Andrea to see the positive effects of competent, caring social workers as well what happens when social workers are haphazard in practice. “So, social work was really my calling, and where I feel at home,” she says.
Andrea’s extensive experience in the field allowed her to discover the gaps in service and where government policies fail those who need them most. “This leads to burnout for some, but for me, it seemed to light a fire for change,” she says. “So, instead of complaining or changing jobs, I decided to find a way to make changes. And, for me that meant becoming more informed.”
The Tulane online DSW program was the right fit for Andrea because it offers flexibility, which allows her to continue to work full-time. “Even though I’ve only just finished my second semester, I’m already more empowered in advocating for the families I serve,” she says.
If anyone would like to donate books and continue encouraging literacy for the children of Meridian, MS, a book donation drop is at the United Way Office at 4817 North Park Drive, Meridian, MS 39301.