A classroom presentation by the school social worker is an effective way to increase awareness of school social work and is a very visible way to showcase the school social worker’s unique and valuable skills. In addition to providing students with helpful information, the school social worker who delivers that information effectively will likely be more completely valued by students. With an adolescent audience, the school social worker’s particular professional “use of self” is perhaps more critical than the information provided. Students’ first impression of the school social worker—that encourages them to want to seek help for themselves and/or their friends—is formed by their observations of how the school social worker behaves and interacts with everyone in the class. Help-seeking behavior seems more apt to be activated if students can imagine, with a level of hope, that they can be helped; that they have the freedom and permission to easily and privately access that help; and that they have a basic trust in the person who seems capable of helping.
Jerry Ciffone developed an evidence-based school-wide depression awareness and suicide prevention program in 1987; shortly after he heard Iris Bolton speak of the pain she experienced after her son Mitch committed suicide. Suicide prevention became a such a passion for Jerry that he maintained this program for 27 straight years; until he retired in 2014. There are different measures of prevention program effectiveness however, the most valid measurement is the extent to which there are, or are not, suicides where a prevention program is offered. From 1987 through 2014 over 17,000 students received Jerry's prevention message in their Health class. During this 27 year time span (among enrolled students in the two high schools where this program was offered) there were a scant number of suicide attempts requiring medical intervention, and one student (in 2007) who died by suicide.
Information about the nature and effectiveness of the program can be viewed in the January 2007 issue of the journal Social Work. School social workers and other interested individuals wishing to develop an awareness and prevention program at their school may contact Jerry to receive free and readily available information (PowerPoint slides. the presentation transcript. and the follow-up “quiz” given by the Health Class teachers to screen for at-risk students) which he used in his prevention program.
Jerry is credentialed through the Illinois State Board of Education to work in a school setting and is available to provide presentations to high school classrooms on the topic of depression and teen suicide. His presentation and discussion with students currently includes the movie More Than Sad. Information about this movie can be obtained by going to: http://www.morethansad.org/
Freshman Orientation to Social Work Services
A very important component of the suicide prevention program was an orientation message given to all freshman students about school social work services and how they could access such services for themselves or a friend. Jerry named the program Freshman Orientation to School Social Work (FOSSW). Visitors to this website who are interested in learning more about the FOSSW Program may view a more detailed description of the Program by clicking on the FOSSW Information link at the top.
Presentations to other classes
On several occasions Jerry was invited in to speak to Psychology classes at South Elgin High School. In preparing for the classroom presentation the teacher would forward questions her students had about school social work, mental health and mental-illness. It may be helpful for other school social workers to see the types of questions high school students had for Jerry so that a presentation they may be developing on the same subject can be pertinent and interesting to the students in their building.