February 29, 2024

Buffalo school social worker receives statewide award

Author: Kara Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Kim Jones
Caption: Kim M. Jones, Buffalo Teachers Federation, won the 2023 Ruth Schwartz School Social Worker of the Year Award from the NYSSWA. From left, Jones and Wendy Castiglia, NYSSWA Western New York region board president. Photo provided.

The 2022 Tops Supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York shook the nation’s consciousness. But for Kim M. Jones, a school social worker at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, it literally shook her world. The school sits in a majority Black community about five minutes away from the store. “A lot of my students’ family members were either victims, or related to victims,” said the Buffalo Teachers Federation member.

Jones set up a counseling room at school the Monday after the Saturday shooting for students who needed emotional support. “I offered talking, art and play therapy and, for some students, just let them console each other while I facilitated,” said Jones. “I followed their lead.”

A big fear at the majority Black school was why the shooter “hated them” so much. “I had to reassure students that not everyone feels that way,” said Jones noting that as one of a handful of Black staffers at the school, she felt the lack of diversity keenly in the days and weeks following the shooting.

Although she’d never experienced a tragedy on the scale of the Tops attack, because of her resilience in tough times and innovative approaches to helping her fifth through 12th grade students succeed, Jones received the 2023 Ruth Schwartz School Social Worker of the Year Award from the New York State School Social Worker’s Association. In honor of National School Social Work Week, March 3-9, Jones spoke about her work.

“I need to know that I’m helping people … I do what I do from my heart,” said Jones who partners with local businesses and community groups to develop initiatives that broaden her students’ horizons, and help their families access vital services at a school where more than 60 percent of students qualify for a free lunch. An annual March wellness fair brings over 60 different vendors to the school to provide information about services such as food stamps, subsidized housing and to speak about health and wellness.

For the last couple of years, Jones has also organized an October school carnival that brings to campus therapy goats, a mobile exhibit and art activity from the Albright Knox Art Gallery and features a bounce house, ice cream truck and midway snacks such as kettle corn and cotton candy. “I heard about the goats through the school nurse,” said Jones who’d worked with therapy dogs in the past but wanted her inner-city students to experience a country fair atmosphere. “The kids love the goats … they sense your spirit, and really help the students with emotional anxiety.”

Student Videos: Wellness Fair

Student Videos: Wellness Fair

Other initiatives she spearheads include a winter coat giveaway, a holiday adopt-a-student program, monthly kindness projects to reduce bullying, providing school-break to-go bags for students experiencing food insecurity, even sourcing appliances and furniture for families in need. “This has been a challenging year … there are so many depressed kids,” she said noting that she often asks herself if she’s making a difference. “A lot of families don’t have housing or money … so, if I can help, I do.”

“Our entire faculty has grown to depend on Kim for the magic she works in teaching students the skills they need to cope with challenges and stay on task with academics,” said school social worker Stephanie Sacco, a Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts colleague. “She sets the bar extremely high for what a school social worker can be, not only to our students, but to our school and the entire community.”

For resources to celebrate National School Social Work week, visit the New York State School Social Workers' Association.