Social Work Appreciation Month: The Shayna Sargent Story

Every year in March, we celebrate Social Work Appreciation Month. Social work can be a demanding field, but given the opportunity, social workers can truly make a difference in the lives of the people they serve. At Food for Others, we rely on social workers to submit emergency referrals. With an emergency referral, families can pick up 3-5 days worth of food. We accept emergency referrals at both our My Market and our 9 mobile sites.  

Shayna Sargent is a social worker at Clearview Elementary School who works closely with Food for Others. She’s been working for Fairfax County Public Schools for the past five years. In honor of Social Work Appreciation Month, we wanted to feature her in our blog. We greatly appreciate her work collaborating with Food for Others and are amazed by her dedication to serving students in need.  

Sargent shared with us how she initially became interested in social work. She explained that “her mom always said [she] was born to be a social worker,” and that “even as a young kid, [she] would get in trouble because I was sticking up for the kids who weren’t treated well.” She also emphasized that her family instilled in her strong social justice values. She saw the difference her grandma made as a judge on foster cases and wanted to have a similar impact. Her dedication to social justice inspired her passion for social work.  

When Sargent was in college at Christopher Newport University, she majored in social work. Her experience in college furthered her interest in mental health. After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, she realized she wanted to focus on mental health in schools, sharing that “[the tragedy] got her thinking about what was going on [mentally] to get to that point.” 

Sargent’s career in school social work began at DC Public Schools. She worked there for three years before moving to Fairfax County. With FCPS, she started at Baileys Upper Elementary School and then transitioned to Clearview Elementary. At Clearview Elementary, Sargent works primarily with students in two tiers, tier 2 and tier 3. Tier students receive temporary assistance from school counselors. This often includes group counseling. Sargent shared that she’s currently managing a counseling group with female students impacted by bullying.  

At tier 3, Sargent works with students on a more individualized and intensive basis. These are students with the highest mental health needs throughout the school, ranging between pre-k to 6th grade.  Her work with this group can include direct case management, such as threat assessments and Individualized Education Plans.  

Sargent shared that about 60% of her students have requested assistance at different levels. She’s found that the level of need has drastically increased since the beginning of the pandemic; “Mental health is a very big need this year. More than ever we’re case managers for intensive family needs.” In her years at Clearview, she’s also found that many families have trouble accessing mental health services due to language barriers, limited internet access, or a lack of health insurance. This can be particularly problematic when families are trying to access online services. With these difficulties, school social workers are taking on greater responsibilities for individualized family care. Families may be more comfortable with receiving support in schools as they can be “safe and trusted places for kids.” She stressed how much she cares about her job, stating that “it’s a lot, but I love it.” Sargent shared that her favorite aspect of the job is the kids; “They’re awesome. I get to be a big kid at times, and I’ve become someone they trust because I see them every day.” She also acknowledged that many of the students she sees don’t have a lot of special, trusted relationships and that she’s grateful for the opportunity to be a “trusted relationship” for them.  

Sargent’s career showcases how difficult but rewarding social work can be. If you have the opportunity to work with a social worker this month, or any month, please share your appreciation for their hard work to improve lives.