By LEANN BURKE
JASPER – For Abby Betz, a social worker for Youth First, her job at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Jasper is a bit of a dream come true.
Holy Trinity and Youth First of Evansville announced a partnership last week that will place Betz in school to provide social work services. Youth First is a non-profit organization that partners with 90 schools in 11 counties in Indiana to provide master’s-level social workers to schools and their communities. Betz will be the Youth First social worker serving Holy Trinity.
For the past three years, Betz has been the Youth First social worker serving Warrick County Schools. The move to Holy Trinity is the fulfillment of Betz’s longtime goal of serving his home county.
The daughter of Larry and Kathy Tenbarge, Betz grew up in Huntingburg and graduated from Southridge High School in 2005. Her parents were teachers, so she spent a lot of time in schools growing up. Even though she knew that teaching was not for her, she still wanted to work in the school environment.
“I really like working with children,” she said.
This led her to study social work and earn a psychology degree from Ohio State University. She also holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern Indiana.
“I just want to let it be known that there is someone at school who can help out through difficult times and who is focused on socio-emotional learning,” Betz said.
Socio-emotional learning is the process by which children and adults learn to recognize and manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, and maintain positive relationships.
As a school social worker, Betz will be on hand to help Holy Trinity students, teachers and families develop resilient skills and mindsets. It’s especially important work this year as school communities grapple with the transition to in-person classes after schools close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with uncertainty as to what. the school year will look like as the pandemic continues.
“They need their feelings to be validated and someone to say, ‘Yeah, it’s hard, but we’re going to make it together,'” Betz said.
Some of the changes Betz and his colleagues are planning to guide students include wearing masks all day and not being able to sit next to their friends at lunch due to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Betz will be on the Holy Trinity campus three days a week. Of these three days, two will be spent on the East Campus with Grades 3 through 8 students and one will be spent on the Central Campus with Preschool through Grade 2. Her work will include individual counseling, group sessions and classroom lessons on coping mechanisms and other mental health skills. At East Campus, she will also help older students begin to develop workforce preparation skills.
Much of her job, Betz said, will be to build a relationship with each of the students so they all know they can come see her if they have any difficulties.
“This is a very dynamic position and something that we are looking to develop at Holy Trinity,” said Jenna Seng, Director of Holy Trinity Central Campus.
Prior to the partnership with Youth First, Holy Trinity partnered with Catholic Charities for school counseling services. While this partnership worked well, the counselor was only on campus one day a week, said Jon Tempel, director of the East Campus at Holy Trinity.
Recently, Catholic Charities told Seng and Tempel that they would no longer provide school counseling services, so the couple began to look for other options. Seng and Tempel heard about Youth First in other Catholic schools in the diocese of Evansville. They looked at it and felt the Youth First model fit with Holy Trinity’s mission to serve the whole student – mind, body, and spirit. They believed that the students of Holy Trinity would benefit from a partnership.
“The Youth First model is very much about prevention and preparedness,” Tempel said. “It meets the needs of the students, but also teaches them coping skills so that they are prepared when something happens. “
It’s still early in the school year, but Tempel said Betz got into it immediately and he believes the partnership will go a long way in ensuring that Holy Trinity provides socio-emotional learning for his students.
“It will be a blessing for our students,” he said.