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Student Services Team Meets Families Where They’re At

During a “normal” school year, it’s no question that students and families need support throughout the year. In light of the unique and unprecedented nature of this school year, the Columbia Heights Public Schools (CHPS) Student Support Team is supporting families from afar and meeting them wherever they may find themselves. Made up of social workers and school psychologists, the Team works with students and their families to provide necessary support in order for students to thrive.”

“Our team’s main goal is to reduce the barriers that make learning challenging for our students,” said Highland Elementary Social Worker Nicole Herje. “We have an individual approach with every student we work with. There isn’t a grand thing we can apply to all students. It’s all about working with families individually to figure out how we can support them, so their students can succeed.”

Many times, the barriers making learning a challenge have nothing to do with school (like homelessness or substance abuse). Columbia Heights High School School Psychologist Angela Jacobson emphasized the spectrum of support the Student Support Team provides: academic, social, family, mental health, emotional, attendance, behavioral and more. This year, the team has been particularly focused on access to education – like ensuring reliable internet access – so students can do the basics of attending school each day.

“We provide a safe place for students, connect with families, and work with the school to support a variety of student needs,” said Jacobson.

Herje illustrated the scope of her role, “One day I might be calling around to find emergency housing for a family and the next I might be delivering a hot spot to student home.”

“Our Student Services Team is unmatched in their ability to serve our students. They have such a unique way of partnering with families, identifying potential needs and connecting them with resources that will meet those needs,” said Director of Special Education John Fry, who oversees the Team. “Whether it’s finding winter gear for a student, mental health support, meal resources and beyond, they work they do allow students to thrive both in and outside of school.”

Beyond providing basic access to education and crisis resources, the Student Support Team provides daily support for students in various capacities. “We’re really focused on building relationships with students and meeting their social needs right now,” said Herje. “Students just want a consistent person to talk to. We play games over Zoom – both in groups and individually – and just provide time for students to interact and to be friends without the pressure of being ‘in class.’”

Fry noted how intent the Team is on meeting each student’s specific needs. “They truly are student-focused and believe that all students belong and will succeed,” he said.

“Kids know when someone really cares about them; our team really does a good job of being those people. We believe in them,” said Columbia Academy Social worker Vanessa Lotito-Meier. “We really value our kids. We chose this profession because we want to see students be successful.”

For resources, Student Support contact information and more, visit