Editors note: This is part two of a series of stories on Castleton’s reach into the community.
While the Castleton University campus may only stretch 165-acres, students can be found working all around Rutland County in schools, hospitals, health centers and social service organizations.
The social work program has been sending students into the community for field work since its initial accreditation in 1972 by the Council of Social Work Education, according to Lillian Jackson, social work program director and field director.
Students in the social work program must complete 400 hours of field work during their undergraduate education in order to attain a Bachelor’s of Social Work.
“It is in some ways the crown jewel of the program,” said social work professor Luther Brown. “Students can’t wait until they are in the position to apply all the skills and methods and knowledge.”
Castleton students are required to complete an early field placement before their senior year, and then spend two days a week intensively working in the field during their senior year where they will have their own case-loads and clients.
The Howard Center Park Street Program, a residential program for youth with sexually harming behaviors is an organization that has been welcoming social work students since its beginning in 1992.
“We thrive here at Park Street because of our collaboration with Castleton. It opens the door for them to be hired on for counseling positions here and we have employed a lot of students over the years,” said Shelly McGinnis, program director for Park Street. “I think that’s a great opportunity for them, and also a great opportunity for us.”
McGinnis explained the many roles students play during their time as interns.
“[Students] have the opportunity to shadow program clinicians who lead treatment groups, and they also are permitted to help co-facilitate discussions in these groups. They also are paired up with our team leaders who work shifts with the residents,” McGinnis said. “They also are responsible to lead a treatment group…and really see how counseling is happening on the floor and in practice. They get a chance to really observe and see how we manage different crises with kids. They also get an opportunity to participate in outings and activities to enhance the kids’ self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Senior Ben Girard is currently working at Rutland Mental Health Children and Families another common placement for social works students.
“I work with kids eight through 18, but most of my clients are between 12 and 17. I help with assessments and treatment plans such as interventions, and I go out and work with the kids,” Girard said. “It is challenging, it is stressful, but it’s worth it. It’s very interesting; every day is different.”
The courses in the social work curriculum are sequential, starting with introductory courses, then knowledge-building courses, then skill-building and methods courses, all preparing students for their senior field placements, Brown said.
“We are dealing with people. This sometimes comes in the form of individuals, families, groups, organizations or communities. Therefore students have to be very knowledgeable about other cultures and subcultures,” he said. “We prepare students to be generalists rather than specialists. The techniques they learn, the methods they learn, can be applied across various environments.”
Junior social work majors take an early field course to learn about field work and have the opportunity to choose where they’d like to be placed.
“During early field we go over placement, what they’re like, what kind of positions there are,” Jackson said. “I explain what placements are and what might be a good fit.”
Senior Christina Lazelle said she benefitted from this preparation.
“I think the classes were really relevant. You do practice classes which teach you what you will do when you work in the social work field, and doing that really helped me have a better understanding of what I will be doing,” she said.
From the other side, McGinnis has also noticed the skills of students and effort of the social work faculty.
“The social work program does a really good job in preparing them for what they will experience. We work closely with Lillian Jackson and she does a really good job of working in collaboration with us to make sure students have the opportunity to put into action things they’ve learned,” she said.
As Field Director, Jackson has extensive connections with organizations in the community including the Park St. Program, Rutland Mental Health, Mandala House, a residence for women leaving prison, Department of Children and Families and Forty-seven Main Street, a mental health program for adult males, among many others.
The work social work students do can have a lasting impact on their clients and the organizations.
Lazelle is currently working at Rutland Probation and Parole.
“I meet offenders and make their schedule and do paperwork. I’m also doing a separate assignment with the director of probation and parole where I help with the community reintegration panel, which is a panel of volunteers from the Rutland community who meet with an offender and try to get them welcomed back into the community,” she said.
The students’ field work must be supervised by someone holding a Master’s of Social Work degree in order to obtain a BSW. Students also receive regular visits from Jackson and Brown to assist them with their clients and caseloads.
“I meet with the students, find out about the nature of the clients, raise issues with them about the work they are doing at that time and advise them on the skills and methods that might be appropriate,” Brown said.
Doing hands-on work while still in the program gives students a chance to see what they’re really interested in.
“I’ve gained a lot of experience with the criminal justice system and understand how that process works. I am working on getting a job as a victims advocate so this has helped me because I’ve seen the offenders’ side, but I haven’t gotten to work with the victims as much,” she said. “I’ve learned more about the kinds of populations I want to work with after school, and I’ve learned where my strong points are and points that I’ve needed to work on.”
Girard has also grown through this process.
“It has helped me become more confident. Working with different people from different backgrounds and being more assertive,” he said. “I’ve matured as a person.”