CapCityKids interns serve local campuses with social services
Since 2009, CapCityKids has funded internships for social work students in Austin public schools that need extra counseling and social services support. Intern supervisor Kate Amerson and three of the current CapCityKids interns share their views on the program’s impact on the communities they serve.
Kate Amerson (MSSW ’94) lets out a hearty laugh when asked if she always knew that she wanted to be a social worker. She began her undergraduate degree at San Antonio College in the 80s, convinced she would major in theatre and drama. Everything changed when she took a social work elective class her final year before transferring to The University of Texas at Austin.
“I remember sitting in the class thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, you mean to tell me I can get paid for advocating?’” she said.
Since then, Amerson has had a career in social work for approximately 30 years with a specialized focus on advocating for students in public education. She loves her current role supervising CapCityKids interns and is proud of the work they have done on their placement campuses.
“In a way, I am a student when they are with me,” she said. “They keep me on my toes, and I love watching the next generation taking over the reins.”
Amerson said the program also creates a space for collaboration among agencies. She regularly brings in presenters from local organizations and invites interns from other schools in the district to attend these sessions.
The CapCityKids internship program approaches its 10-year anniversary next year, and everybody is looking forward to a big celebration. Amerson would also love to see the program replicated in other school districts in the state.
“I’m really proud that we target campuses that just don’t have the extra onsite support they need,” Amerson said. “To have our social work students come in and
provide that support means a lot to me.”
At her CapCityKids internship, Heather Thiel co-leads a support group for elementary-school children with current or recently incarcerated family members. Many students in the group don’t fully understand what’s happened to their family member because it’s not talked about at home. The support group provides them with a safe place to understand the situation. Thiel and her co-leader explain to the group that their family members are now in a facility, what it looks like, and how an average day there might unfold.
“The main goal is to teach the kids that they have choices and that just because their loved one has been sent to prison doesn’t mean that they’re fated to the same outcome,” Thiel explained. The group has also helped build a sense of belonging through crafts and activities that emphasize community. For example, students once wrote their worries down on balloons and took turns tossing them into the air. They helped one another keep the balloons from falling to the ground to demonstrate that it’s okay to rely on others for help.
In her second semester as an intern, Thiel hopes to start a therapeutic improvisational theatre group.
“Improv is a really great, safe environment for kids to get their feelings expressed,” Thiel said. She added that improv can help students foster active listening skills and learn sympathy because partner work is required to execute a scene well.
Thiel is thankful for the amount of support and training she’s received through her internship.
“We have optional training that are coordinated by CapCityKids,” she said. “I took a grief-and loss training that was truly life-changing.”
Making a house out of leaves for cockroaches isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of therapy. But for Madi Low this memory stood out from her experience co-leading an eco-therapy group for elementary students during her CapCityKids internship.
Each week, Low leads a small group of male students around their campus, where they hold outdoor picnics, feel the sun on their skin and appreciate the greenery around them.
“Think of five things you can see right now, four that you can smell, three that you can touch,” she says to them as she teaches them mindfulness techniques.
Most of the boys in the group were selected because they were struggling with behavioral issues, while others were selected because administrators thought they would make good role models. Low said the weekly meetings have given participants a deeper understanding of what nature can do for them, as most of them hadn’t had much exposure to nature prior to joining the group.
“Research says that being outside makes you feel better,” Low said. “I’ve always had a love of nature, and I was really excited to share that with the group.”
At a different elementary campus in Austin, Low handles a caseload of individual students and leads a support group. Because of the variety of her responsibilities, she has learned different counseling styles, ways to plan, and ways to respond to situations when they don’t go as planned.
“I can speak so highly of CapCityKids,” Low said. “It recognizes the need for interns to learn and grow so they can be set up to have a successful career in social work.”
At her CapCityKids internship, Amber Borcyk facilitates a variety of groups for first, second and third graders. Some of the students have refugee status, others are homeless, and some have incarcerated family members. Two of the groups she leads focus on processing difficult family transitions, and the other group is for children who needed extra emotional support and attention. All of them, Borcyk said, crave normalcy in their lives.
In all her groups, Borcyk incorporates playtherapy techniques she’s learned through CapCityKids training. For example, to break the ice with students, she uses a beach ball with questions written on it. When students catch the ball, they can choose between the two questions their thumbs landed on. She explained that
this creates “psychological safety” for children because they’re given a sense of autonomy.
Last fall Borcyk also helped register female students for “We Are Girls,” an annual conference put on by the Girls Empowerment Network of Austin (GENAustin) and designed to build confidence in young female students. She saw one shy attendee blossom during the day, especially after attending one of the morning workshops that encouraged participants to let out an actual roar.
In her second semester with CapCityKids, Borcyk wants to branch out and work with high-school and middle-school students. She knows she’ll get the support she needs.
“What really motivates me is my relationship with my field instructor, Kate,” she said. “She works really hard to give us weekly supervision and mentors us in a growth-mindset kind of way.”
Text and photos by Lynda Gonzalez