School Social Worker, Ricardo Flores Magon Academy
What have you been up to since you were a student at Marymount?
Wow. For me that is a loaded question. I feel like I have been up to so many things since graduating. But I am assuming that I should share my successes since folks in the DC/NOVA area love to ask, “What do you do?” When really they mean… How do you make money? Anyway, I am actually stoked with my job, so I feel compelled to share.
Since graduating from Marymount in 2014, I moved to Denver, Colorado, and this past June I earned my Master’s degree in social work (MSW) from the University of Denver. I am currently employed at Ricardo Flores Magon Academy (RFMA) as their school social worker. The students are awesome. I work with youth ages kindergarten through 8th grade. The majority of the population at RFMA are 95% Hispanic and/or Latina(o). The executive director ensures that the teachers, staff, and administration honor their culture and incorporate texts, history, etc that aren’t whitewashed. I work with the learning services team to help develop behavioral plans for at-risk youth who need more support and structure in their day so they can grow their social-emotional skills and be an active member of the classroom. I also do one-on-one therapy sessions with youth, restorative circles, as well as work closely with youth’s families. Sometimes a family will need help finding resources in the area while other times the family is seeking therapeutic guidance for how to best support their child’s needs at home and at school. What I appreciate the most about my job is that every day is different, I am always busy, and our school motto is to uphold and honor social justice. Our school colors are a rainbow. I love it.
Other than that, I recently got a Border Collie puppy named Obi. I snowboard as often as I possibly can, and am still enjoying all there is to explore (mainly the Rocky Mountains) in the beautiful state of Colorado.
What challenges or obstacles did you face in your academic career?
During my time at Marymount, I was a non-traditional undergrad. I was working full-time as a bartender at Jackson’s in Reston Town Center. That is a busy bar. I worked 40 hours a week and was taking 12 credits a semester as an English major. I am really not sure how I managed to do it all, but I was determined. In my early 20’s, I was a lost soul and I didn’t know who I wanted to be, but I knew bartending was not the answer. When I was 28 and I got that acceptance letter from Marymount it was the first time in my life that I knew I could accomplish something. I mean, I was terrified, but mostly I was driven.
What was most challenging was balancing work, school, and writing papers. I have dyslexia so grammar and writing papers are struggles for me. A paper that would take other people 3-4 hours would take me 8-10. But it was worth it because I always had that “aha” moment where I had to go back and change my thesis and mostly start over, but man, I learned a lot in that process. Fitting in all the reading was always a fun challenge as well. I usually did all my readings on Saturday and Wednesday mornings before I went to work because I did not have any classes those days.
The biggest challenge for me was the summer before I graduated from Marymount. I was accepted into the Humanities Institute (where we read a book a week – for 8 weeks – while doing our own research paper and project on the side), I was taking two summer classes while working full time, and planning a wedding. I guess what I am getting at is that I knew I was capable of doing the work, but it was figuring out time management and sticking to my schedule in order to not lose my damn mind.
How did your experience at Marymount impact your life?
Marymount changed the stars for me. As I mentioned before, I was a lost soul. The humanities community at Marymount has some of the most hardworking people I have ever encountered. The professors are so dedicated to their students’ growth, it is inspiring. The English department has a heartbeat and during my time there I could feel it beat out loud (I know that is a Grateful Dead song but it is fitting for this moment). Before Marymount I did not know I was smart and capable of writing analytical essays. I learned how to think critically, how to challenge myself, how to challenge society’s social constructs, as well as push myself to really dig into the content we were reading instead of simply just getting a paper done because it was an assignment.
Reading queer theory and feminist literature helped me find my identity. It took me moving to Denver and starting my Master’s degree to realize I was gay, but I would not have made it this far if Marymount had never given me a chance.
Being an English Major also helped significantly with my ability to succeed in graduate school. Many of my peers struggled with the number of articles we had to read, as well as, the number of papers we were required to write. Graduate school is no joke and Marymount prepared me for it (they aren’t paying me to say this, by the way, this is just the honest to god truth).
Here in Denver I found my voice. I am an activist who fights for equality against our current administration. You can often find me at the civic center (there are rallies there all the time) or at our local capital talking with my constituents. I never used to be a part of any political/social justice movements of this caliber before I went to Marymount. And for the record, Marymount didn’t turn me radical or anything. Like I said before, I found my voice–and oh man, do I use it.
What are your future career, service, or other goals?
My goal is eventually to become a licensed clinical social worker. It will probably take me around 2 years to do this. I have already started the process and passed the first required test so I am on my way. I would eventually like to open up my own private practice where I could also train interns who are earning their MSW’s, that way my agency could work with low socioeconomic status folks. Mental health is essential to our well-being. Without homeostasis, especially in the late-stage capitalist society we are all currently subjected to, life can be unbearable. I want to work with people who typically would not be able to receive services because of money and/or because of their identity. I feel like I am on the right track working at RFMA, but someday soon I will be my own boss and give back as much as I can to my community.
What advice would you give to prospective students in your field?
Do the required reading; no matter how busy you are, I promise you can fit this in. This may be the only time in your life that you are asked to read an abundance of eclectic literature. Thinking critically about the text will help your brain grow and will challenge you in ways that make you realize you have the ability to surprise yourself. Push through the pain. The only way out is in. Take time and be thoughtful with your essays. The body feels differently when you turn in a paper that you grappled with; professors can tell when a paper has heart. Take creative writing classes as seriously as the literature classes. Be vulnerable and be brave. Take chances, but honor your boundaries. Writing is a way of life for me; I selfishly hope it is for you too.
Profile interview conducted by Nhu-Phuong Duong