“I'm scared of graduating.” “I don't know what I'm going to do after school.” “I don't know if this class is right for me.” These are the phrases that Colby Siergiej of Oceanside hears every day from teenagers as a recently hired social worker at Nassau BOCES Barry Tech.
New to the world of social work, Siergiej did some soul searching herself after graduating with a bachelor’s in psychology from Long Island University. Deciding after working as a teacher’s assistant for six years that she would go back to school for a master’s in social work, graduating from Fordham in 2020.
“I find that it comes with many hats,” Siergiej told the Herald about her new job at BOCES, “but the main goal is helping support students with all mental health, behavioral or emotional concerns.”
On a daily basis, she is assessing what the students’ needs are to gauge what strategies to implement to help them. Whether it's behavioral strategies, developing social skills, emotional skills, anger management, conflict resolution, intervention strategies, crisis intervention or overall advocating for them.
Since BOCES is a technical school students spend half the day in their home district school and the other half using their hands learning various skills and trades that can be used for a future career.
Using their hands, Siergiej said, allows students to have an outlet or explore a new hobby they might not have known beforehand.
“This gives them the opportunity to express themselves in ways maybe they don't have in their home district or at home, itself,” she said, “And my job is to give them the safest environment possible. They're in a safe space here, they can express how they feel without being judged. I don't tell them what to do, but I just guide them.”
The classes themselves can be used to cope and blow off steam, even if they don’t choose to pursue them in the future.
“It can be a coping skill, like in cosmetology they might blow off steam just doing makeup or with nursing, they go out to the clinic and clear their head. So, I absolutely think that is definitely a way that they can connect to themselves better and kind of figure out what works for them,” Siergiej said.
“My job is just to reassure that they are doing the right thing, and everything kind of works out itself. So, if they don't like this class, it gave them the opportunity to kind of see that and maybe try something else,” Siergiej explained. She also assists them in creating long and short-term goals, that when achieved can create a positive mental momentum going forward.
Although out of school, that doesn’t mean her education has stopped. The field of social work is constantly changing and evolving.
“As a social worker, you have to do your research, you have to be reading articles, you have to be communicating with other staff, other social workers…we're aware of new phrases, new disorders that are coming out, so we constantly have to be on the ball,” she said.
The culture at BOCES is that of a community coming together, Siergiej said.
“We come together during crisis, we come together during happy times, mainly our number one goal is to support the students in any means…It's a really great place to be as a social worker, where your voice can be heard, and you are hearing other people's voices. Being a social worker nowadays is more important than ever.”