April Person of the Month: Elizabeth Tremblay
Elizabeth is a Clinical Supervisor at New York Foundling and supervises the mental health partnerships at four of Turnaround’s New York City schools. She was nominated for Person of the Month by Amanda Mays, Manager, Partnership Development, who describes Elizabeth as “a strong advocate for creating responsive and sustainable partnerships between New York Foundling and schools.”
THE 180: Did you always know you wanted to be a social worker?
ELIZABETH TREMBLAY: Growing up, my family sponsored a Fresh Air Fund student from when I was five to when I was 15. Fresh Air Fund is a New York City-based organization that sends students to homes along the East Coast during the summer months. He would talk about his experiences in New York City and I saw that when you give a child access and resources they can really flourish. So that’s what inspired me to go into social work and come to New York City.
THE 180: What does the typical day look like for you?
ELIZABETH TREMBLAY: It depends on the time of year, to be honest. The beginning of the year is a lot of prep work and back to school meetings. I go to a lot of the parent conferences, and we do a lot of tabling events at the schools to make sure that the families know who we are.
And then there are breaks and testing. If you ask any anyone who works in schools, that last couple of days before a break are very tough. Kids and staff are kind of anxious for the break and there’s a lot of high energy during those time periods. And with testing, kids feel anxious about the tests, plus they have to sit for three hours to take them. They really struggle to de-escalate and manage that energy, so you see kids acting out. We see a lot more aggression – not just verbal aggression, but physical aggression – right after testing.
THE 180: Tell me more about the anxiety and high energy you see before school breaks.
ELIZABETH TREMBLAY: I think for some kids, home is a struggle. Home sometimes has unpredictability to it – around food, whether they feel safe in their home, who’s watching them if their parents are working. Sometimes when kids are left alone for a whole week (during a school vacation), it can be very anxiety-provoking as to what can happen.
For some students, being put into the unpredictability 24/7 sometimes can be triggering for them. We’ve had kids that have made so much progress in the very predictable school schedule, that when they go back to that unscheduled time, it can be very jarring. Then we have to bring them back to, ” We’re in school. This is a schedule.” And reacclimate them.
THE 180: Are there strategies you use to help mitigate the insecurity some children experience?
ELIZABETH TREMBLAY: We partner with the guidance counselor and the school leadership in identifying those students, because I think proper identification is step one in making sure we support those students. And we work with teachers who have strong relationships with those students to figure out strategies they’ve noticed that have really worked for them. We don’t want to re-invent the wheel. If a student has some strategies they’ve used already in the school setting, how can we then support them in the home setting? We also work on de-escalation skills and breathing exercises.
And in extreme situations, we do safety planning. If mom or dad are doing X, Y, and Z that makes them feel like they are unsafe, what can they do? And we make sure our kids understand what child abuse and neglect is – the line between, mom and dad are kind of annoying me versus is it abusive or neglectful?
THE 180: Do you ever experience push-back from the families when you approach them about their child needing extra support? If so, how do you handle that?
ELIZABETH TREMBLAY: Definitely. I think that there is some stigma around mental health in many different cultures. It’s sometimes seen as something negative and/or, “It’s something we don’t talk about in the family.” And sometimes there’s a disconnect between the behaviors we’re observing and what the family experiences. We often hear: “I don’t see the behaviors the teacher’s seeing in the school setting at home.”
So we try to normalize it and avoid labels. Sometimes families will say, “My kid doesn’t have ADHD,” but then they talk about how their child is very hyperactive. So we try to move away from that diagnosis and instead focus on the behaviors, and how we can support their family in addressing the behaviors they find concerning as well.
THE 180: What have you seen Turnaround contribute to a school’s ability to support its students?
ELIZABETH TREMBLAY: I’ve seen organization. I appreciate the organization and the thoughtfulness of intervention. Having systematic interventions has been really helpful for the schools, and really helpful for the families and kids. Turnaround is very planful in its support, which, in turn, makes the school more systematic in its intervention.
There’s also the data component. Turnaround’s classroom observations and data gathering is very structured. Anyone could do it; a principal could walk in and do the same observation. And I think that is such an accomplishment We know doing random intervention, especially in a school setting, isn’t very helpful, right? So instead we can look at the data to see how we can best support students. Seeing, “Okay, this kid has 10 demerits. Obviously, this intervention isn’t working. What can we do, then, to support this kid a different way?”
THE 180: What do you think is the most important thing students need for success?
ELIZABETH TREMBLAY: I would say support. If kids feel like they have someone that’s in their corner, that’s cheering them on, they’re saying they can do it – kids can amaze you. No matter what age, what demographic or where they live.