SPS social workers contribute to community

Story provided by Stillwater Public Schools

Stillwater Public School’s social workers are working hard to keep students in need connected with resources for life and learning.

Diana Nolan

SPS recently hired Diana Nolan to join its team as a District Social Worker working primarily with elementary students, following the retirement of Vanessa Wedlake. Nolan is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and has a masters degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma.

“I am super excited to join the SPS team, roll up my sleeves, and get started,” says Nolan. “Even though I am new to the position, I already see the value of connecting with our families here at SPS.”

Kaitlyn Birkhead

Nolan joins Secondary Social Worker and Homeless Liaison Kaitlyn Birkhead in providing services to students and their families. Birkhead has worked as a Social Worker for nearly 7 years. Her education includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development and Family Science from Oklahoma State University and a Masters Degree in Higher Education Administration.

“Working in this role is different. I have enjoyed getting to know families in our community. Right now they need additional support, and I am happy to help them through some of the most vulnerable times,” Birkhead says. “We’re not here to judge anyone’s situation. Our job is to be a support and resource.”

Serving as a bridge between schools and families in a variety of situations, their role often varies. The team helps connect families to resource providers for issues like mental health, utility assistance, housing issues, and other basic needs. Students who are deemed homeless, transitional, or lacking a fixed and stable residence can receive additional services managed by Birkhead and Nolan.

The social workers also serve as student advocates, helping teachers and administrators understand how what’s happening at home might influence what happens at school.

“One of the biggest challenges we face as social workers is making sure there are enough resources to support our families in need,” says Nolan. “Our challenges can center around access to families who lack stability and have transportation barriers, food insecurity, and finite resources.”

SPS STAR (Supporting Transitions And Resiliency) is a project Birkhead coordinates to collect donations to help supply families in need of beds, furniture, cleaning supplies, household items, bedding, and other needs. “Our philosophy centers around helping the family as whole,” she says. More information about the program, including how to make a donation, is available at: https://sps.blue/pioneerhelp or by contacting Birkhead at kbirkhead@stillwaterschools.com.

“People are struggling all over, and Stillwater is no different,” says SPS Director of Federal Programs Dee Atkins, who oversees the Social Workers. “Loss of income from the pandemic has led to food insecurity, clothing needs, and rising eviction numbers. Obviously, these roles are more important than ever in helping our community’s families connect with the resources they need.”