Freshman Orientation to School Social Work

Freshman Orientation to School Social Work (FOSSW) is a school-wide program that was developed by Jerry Ciffone in 1998. The FOSSW Program was designed to reach and guide all students at the two schools Jerry served; Larkin High School in Elgin, Illinois and then South Elgin High School in South Elgin, Illinois. Since its inception the FOSSW Program was offered every year until Jerry retired in June 2014. 

The main purpose of the FOSSW Program was to enhance student connectedness to the school social worker (SSW). Part of this was accomplished through the effective delivery of accurate and helpful information about when, how, and where students could get help. As much as possible the information was provided by the SSWs to students who are assigned to them. This way the student could benefit, early on in their high school experience, from a face-to-face connection with their SSW, and perhaps imagine themselves talking directly with him or her. This first interaction can also potently reduce various imagined barriers and enhance connectedness. It was a program imperative that once a student sought help from the SSW, that their connectedness to the SSW was sustained by how well they are treated and helped. 

By the time the program presentation had been conducted for four consecutive years (in each of the two high schools that Jerry served) nearly every ninth through twelfth grade student in the building had been exposed to the program presentation.* This made the awareness of SSW building-wide and its influence rather systemic.

Jerry conducted two major studies to assess the effectiveness of the message delivered to the students.

  • The first study, involved approximately 450 students. It was conducted in collaboration with his Larkin High School colleague; Ellen Locke, MSW in October 2000. Readers interested in viewing a summary of the results of that first unpublished study may view it at the link in this paragraph.

  • The second study surveyed 318 students. It was conducted 12 years later, in collaboration with Jerry's South Elgin High School colleague; Sharon Bretz, MSW in October 2012. A complete description of the program and the analysis of its effectiveness is published in Volume 42, Number 1 of the Fall 2017 edition of the School Social Work Journal.

The FOSSW Program can easily be replicated by any building-based SSW who is willing to implement it in their own setting. The Program is most effective if the SSW is present in the school on a full-time basis and has the explicit support of the principal to serve all students in a timely manner.

The FOSSW Program consists of two basic parts

The first part is a presentation to students. To insure that all 9th grade students receive a universal (and fundamentally identical) message the presentation about SSW should be delivered to all classes that are a first-semester (of the 9th grade) graduation requirement. The FOSSW Program presentation has two components as shown below:

  • a message presented to a group of students by the building-based school social worker. A transcript of the message given is available by clicking on the link above. Permission is granted to duplicate or modify this transcript so that it conforms to the setting of the SSW user. An edit-enabled version of the transcript is available at no cost by contacting Jerry at

  • the simultaneous viewing of PowerPoint slides shown. These slides in PDF are also available by clicking on the link above. Permission is granted to duplicate or modify these PowerPoint slides so that they conform to the setting of the SSW user. An edit-enabled file of the PowerPoint slides is available at no cost by contacting Jerry at

The second part of the Program is the rapid response to students, whom presumably as a result of the presentation, have referred themselves or a friend for help from the SSW. As stated above, the student's connectedness to the SSW is believed to be sustained by how well they are treated and helped. 

Student self-referral for help is a highly desirable pattern of behavior. It has been Jerry’s observation that in most cases self-referring students (as opposed to those who were referred by an adult) were present of their own volition and were generally motivated to achieve some type of insight or change in their situation. Moreover, self-referrals occurred both earlier and at a more critical or pertinent time than referrals initiated by a concerned or observant adult or team of adults. Unfortunately not all students seen by the SSW are self-referred. Many students are referred through the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. There are also students who are referred by parents, teachers and other adults within the school. In these situations some students at SEHS received a short in-office PowerPoint orientation to school social work services by Jerry. This helped to establish a positive rapport and common understanding of the purpose and process of school social work services as it related to the reason for their referral. To review this in-office orientation to school social work services click here

*To address students who entered SEHS subsequent to the FOSSW presentation a ten-question survey was developed to identify and welcome those particular students at the time of their registration and provide them with a relatively brief face-to face introduction to the SSW assigned to them. A copy of the survey completed by those new students and reviewed by the SSW is available and may be viewed and downloaded by going to the link above. Permission is granted to duplicate or modify this survey so that it conforms to the setting of the SSW user.  


Updated on 8/23/19