Archive for Thursday, August 5, 2010

State award honors MVHS social worker

August 5, 2010

Debbie Gudenkauf keeps coming back year after year.

The Mill Valley High School social worker can’t get enough of helping kids. The reason?

“Knowing that I can make a difference in kids’ lives and their families’ lives,” she said.

With a new school year on the horizon, Gudenkauf is looking back on an eventful summer. It began the week after school let out this spring. She was sitting at her desk finishing reports for the school year when she got the call.

“I was working late on budget stuff for a grant,” she said. “I got a call that I had been nominated and selected as Social Worker of the Year by the Kansas Association of School Social Workers.”

The call came as quite a surprise to Gudenkauf, who had no idea she had even been nominated. Joe Kordalski, De Soto High School social worker, had entered her name on the sly earlier in the spring.

“That was the first I’d heard about it,” Gudenkauf said. “I had no idea, but the principal and special education director had written letters of recommendation. It brought tears to my eyes. At that point in the year, you’ve worked so hard and you’re tired. It’s nice to know that others see what you’ve done.”

As part of being selected as Social Worker of the Year, Gudenkauf will travel this weekend to Minneapolis for the Midwest School Social Worker Conference. There, she’ll attend workshops on how to better communicate social work results to administrators within schools.

“So much is confidential that it can be hard to get across how much we impact student lives,” she said. “I’m very excited about that and to learn what others do to help others understand the impact.”

Gudenkauf was also recognized at De Soto USD 232’s July 12 Board of Education meeting with the district’s Inspiration Award.

“That was really nice,” she said. “I got to know Dr. (Ron) Wimmer (interim superintendent) this year. He took an interest in some of our kids. Most people don’t know or understand the nature of our work. It was an award on behalf of all social workers in the district.”

After 21 years in the USD 232 school district and 33 years as a social worker, Gudenkauf can’t imagine doing anything else.

She started her career working in residential treatment, then went to Shawnee Mission Hospital while receiving her master’s degree in social work. Soon after finishing her master’s she heard about the job in the De Soto district.

“A lot of my family has been involved in education,” she said of making the choice to work in schools. “I grew up knowing that education was very important. It’s the ticket to be able to do what you want to do.”

Gudenkauf has worked with students at every level within the district. She’s currently stationed at Mill Valley High School, where she works with students on a variety of issues, such as mental health, anxiety, family dynamics, substance abuse, and grief and loss.

Whether a student just needs to talk or work out issues with art therapy, Gudenkauf is there.

“For example anxiety issues,” she said. “If a student is anxious about a test, we will do breathing exercises to relax. I’ll tell them to close their eyes and visualize themselves taking the test. We’ll do positive self talk and teach them to recall what they’ve studied. They’ll become more confident.”

Gudenkauf often uses cognitive behavior approaches to help students think through what is happening.

“You use the approach to help them see what would happen if they did this,” she said. “It helps them problem solve and it empowers them. It’s all about teaching life-long skills.”

Gudenkauf couldn’t imagine doing anything other than working with students.

“I’ve always been a social worker at heart,” she said. “There were instances in elementary school when I stood up for people. It’s always who I’ve been.

“I love what I do and I really want kids to leave Mill Valley not only with math and science knowledge but to know that even if they suffer from mental health issues they can get through it. They have the resources in them and they will know where they can reach out.”


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