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Communicating with our kids

Advise from Grayling Social Worker Kari Wheeler

We’ve all had days where plans suddenly change and we feel pulled in many directions to meet the needs of those who depend on us, challenging our hearts and our ability to adapt and overcome.  Crawford Ausable School District (CASD) Social Worker Kari Wheeler has desire to make a difference for students, families, and teachers with a persistent internal belief in baby steps and progress.

Wheeler is now in her 17th year as a social worker. She works with students K-12, their parents, teachers, and school administration to meet children where they are and to provide resources, a listening ear for many voices, and a safe space for the kids.

As a social worker the job can feel heavy at times and looking for glimpses of progress is a well-honed skill in her profession. It can be challenging to believe that the impact of one in a small pocket of the world makes a real difference, but then experiences happen that remind her and others.

When asked what parents can do to support their students more fully at home, Wheeler shares that open communication at home between kids and parents is the key, and that communication about student’s needs with the school helps her to make connections that better serve everyone involved. “Parents don’t have to have all the answers, none of us do! Parents are also experts on their children and our goal is to collaborate to foster protective factors for our students and families. Whether through engagement tools, support for carving out quality time together, or encouragement to provide structure and nurturing for their child, one of the greatest things a parent can do for a child”, Wheeler adds.

While there thankfully has been an increase in mental health agencies and providers in the area, there tends to be children who “fly under the radar” because their needs aren’t considered significant enough for local agencies or with current staffing. Each school in CASD does have a food and clothing pantry that students can use free of charge, no questions asked. Community food distributions have decreased in the past year or so, and Wheeler would love to see more of those as well as the community finding ways to solve the need for affordable housing. The area has many transient students who move from district to district due to housing issues which adds many difficulties for them, not just with schooling but also with their ability to establish friendships, to feel connected and sometimes to even have their basic needs met.

“Our students benefit the most when the adults in their lives (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) take a step back and step down to really hear and notice what the student is communicating, what they are feeling and what they are needing. We don’t need more packaged intervention programs, more reward charts, or more punishments- we need adults who can be consistent, we need adults who can expose their own vulnerabilities, we need adults who take the time to authentically connect.”

Wheeler urges parents to listen, advocate, brainstorm, and connect. This will help the community and students move forward. When it comes to children, be consistent, and keep showing up.

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