Ask an expert - Maggie Buoy, social worker

What does it take to be a social worker?

Simply put, Maggie Buoy is "the true definition of a social worker."

Those are the words of a Hinsdale Central parent, but that sentiment was echoed by her colleagues during remarks last week at the District 86 board meeting. They spoke in recognition of Buoy being named 2020 School Social Worker of the Year by the Illinois Association of School Social Workers.

"I'm very shocked, honored, grateful, humbled and very appreciative," she said of the award.

Now in her fifth year at Central, Buoy recalled visiting the school as an undergrad at Eastern Illinois.

"I observed and did a walk through with a social worker here," said Buoy, who went on to get her master's at Loyola University. "That made it very clear to me that it was the path that I wanted to pursue."

She sensed a particular calling to support adolescents "who are at a pretty critical point in their life."

The youth need to be given a voice as much as they need guidance, Buoy suggested.

"My main focus is to consistently be student-centered, advocating for and offering students a safe and welcoming space where they can count on being heard and reminded of the value of their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives," she said. "I feel very passionate about mental health and supporting students' social-emotional well-being."

Buoy derives joy from seeing students face and ultimately overcome challenges and obstacles.

"They take ownership and have the self-confidence to problem-solve those. That is very gratifying," she said.

She praised her department colleagues for their team-minded approach and the spirit of collaboration that has enabled her to develop in her field.

"I truly feel that team approach and constantly seeking feedback from one another allows us as individuals to find room for professional growth," she said.

And having a breadth of community-based organizations to reach out to for student support is an enviable aspect of being in District 86, Buoy commented, and offers social workers more options in the tool box.

"When a student's social-emotional well-being is being affected, it's important that an intervention takes place in order to support that student," she said. "Working with (the agencies) in a variety of different ways helps see that our students' needs are being met."

Remote learning has compelled Buoy and her colleagues to get creative in coming alongside students and their families.

"Knowing what families are enduring, we're making sure that were supporting students through their own grief and loss and connecting them with appropriate resources," she said.

Adaptability, Buoy remarked, is a hallmark of good social workers as the challenges presented can be as numerous as the individuals with whom they meet.

"Every day is different, and there are many days when my team is pulled in different directions. It's important to be flexible and think on your feet and problem-solve in the moment," she said.

"At the end of the day, it lends itself to very a rewarding experience."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean