First graduating class of 1966
As a young man who graduated with a degree in Psychology from UCLA, Steve earned some of his first experience with L.A. County’s Bureau of Public Assistance. It was then that he was inspired by a social worker/parole agent, who was working with the young parolees of the notorious gangs of the 1960s in East Los Angeles. Steve shadowed and watched as the social worker went into their neighborhoods and made a concrete difference with authenticity, action, and dedication. Steve consulted with a professor and was assured that if he wanted action, he should pursue social work.
Steve applied to SDSU as well as the University of Michigan, and chose San Diego not only due to the weather, but also because he was familiar with the work of the founder of SDSU’s School of Social Work, Dr. Ernest Witte. Steve was inspired by Dean Witte’s enthusiasm to embed himself within the community and communicate with those directly involved on the grassroots level in the sixties.
During his graduate studies at SDSU, Steve was placed with the California Youth Authority and the Day Treatment Center, CA Department of Mental Hygiene, which later was replaced by San Diego County Mental Health. While working with a wide age range in the population served by his placements, Steve gravitated towards working with youth. To him it seemed easier to “get down to business” with them, as they seemed more amenable to the therapeutic process.
Steve was in the first graduating class of 1966 and went on to earn his Pupil Personnel Services Credential. He became a school social worker with San Diego Unified School District and Grossmont Union High School District. While working as a school social worker, Steve helped students navigate the web of school, family, and community through counseling, crisis intervention, advocacy, and policy formulation for nearly 30 years. One of Steve’s favorite parts of working with high school students was being a safe person to speak to, someone who would not pass unfair judgment or compromise a student’s reputation. The most rewarding moments of his practice came when students from the past would resurface and remind him of the important role that he played for them. “It is about not only seeing a change in them, but also that they recognize the change in themselves and how it affected their development.”
Currently, Steve is retired and involved closely with the California Association of School Social Workers (CASSW) with the mission to highlight the importance of school social workers and to push for increased presence and recognition of their skill-set. School social workers are team members of the Student and Learning Supports Component in schools, which consists of School Counselors, School Psychologists, School Nurses, and others. SSWs advocate for students and help them navigate their current struggles, barriers, and opportunities academically, within their family systems, and throughout the greater community. With all his years of experience and dedication to the school social work profession, it was no surprise Steve was awarded the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award by CASSW. He plans to continue working with CASSW and promoting the importance of school social work through policy change, education, and outreach.
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Written by: Paloma Pierce