Once upon a time, Shannon Stamegna thought she might go to law school. But after she started looking at educational programs, she found the social work program at Salem State University.
“The description of the program and of learning to help others just matched my personality,” she says. “I also loved the idea of working with families and connecting them to community services.”
“I think there are times when parents think it’s best to figure things out themselves, when really they would be so much better off asking for help and getting connected to community organizations that are excited to provide support.”
Stamegna worked in community health as a licensed clinical social worker. But because of the pandemic she had been working at home, still helping people but at a distance.
Then she heard about a job opening at City Connects. So two months ago, she jumped into a new challenge and a year-old pandemic and became the City Connects Coordinator at St. Pius V School in Lynn, Mass.
“The City Connects job seemed too good to be true,” she says. “What stood out for me was the whole-child, whole-family approach, and the opportunity to connect families to services.”
Stamegna and her students are mostly at school in person, wearing masks and following other safety protocols. Children have to stay in small cohorts, and at lunch, when they take their masks off, they can’t socialize with each other. Nonetheless, being in school with the students feels much more “normal” and “exciting” Stamegna says, “than walking down to my basement to go to work.”
Stamegna started out by meeting with every teacher and re-tiering students, to understand their balance of risks and strengths. This process felt like a mini whole class review of looking at students’ assets and needs, and it helped her learn quickly about her school.
Now, she’s helping younger students manage the morning transition away from parents and into school, and she’s supporting individual students who have personal challenges.
In her work with older students, she draws on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, using CBT strategies to change students’ cognitive distortions.
“I help them focus on the present, talk things out, and focus on the skills they’ve learned, and asking themselves what would be helpful for them ‘right now,’” Stamegna says.
Thanks to her community mental health experience, Stamegna has experience in schools and with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) as well as with mental health assessments. She is also using her professional connections to keep up with community-based resources.
The core of her work, however, is building relationships.
“I’m a very friendly person, and I’m pretty accessible and down to earth. That really helps me connect with kids and parents.
“Sometimes it’s not easy to call parents and tell them their children are struggling or might need a therapist. I have to ask them if they need help finding a therapist for their child, or if they think they might need a therapist themselves. And the best way to do that is to be friendly and draw people in.”
One phrase that fits, Stamegna says, is being authentic. To establish trust with students and families, she has to do the best job she can of conveying her genuine, passionate desire to help.