Helping Heights Children Achieve
School social worker Cindy Schmidt is dedicated to her work
School social worker Cindy Schmidt learned about helping children in need when she was just a child herself.
Growing up, Schmidt's social worker father told her and her sister the bedtime story of Little Miss No Name — an abandoned little girl who needed help and a home.
Schmidt remembers she was "jazzed up" to help Little Miss No Name.
"I just remember, even at a young age, thinking, 'We're going to find her a home!'" Schmidt said with a laugh.
Her father would fall asleep telling the story, remembered Schmidt's mother Arlene Schaars, 90, during a telephone interview from her home in Louisville, Ky.
The story of Little Miss No Name "never ended," Schaars said. Each night Schmidt, her father and her sister worked on Little Miss No Name's problems. The stories went on and on, night after night, until, Schaars said, the girls "grew up."
Schmidt went on to earn a graduate degree in social work — 30 years after her father had — from what is now Case Western Reserve University's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. She was a therapist and mental health worker before becoming a school social worker 14 years ago with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools. She was familiar with the district because her own children, now 29, 27, and 24 years old, went to school there.
"In Cleveland Heights, (school administrators) get it," Schmidt, 59, said during an interview at her Roxboro Elementary School office. "They understand the barriers to education. Our No. 1 goal is to have children achieve academically."
Last year's state report card said 59.2 percent of the district's approximately 6,000 students are economically disadvantaged.
Schmidt, one of 10 school social workers, said some children may come to school hungry, without school supplies or warm clothes. At Roxboro Elementary, she has five cardboard boxes and three bags filled with clothing and backpacks for students in need.
"We work really hard to get to know families," Schmidt said. "We are really accepting and caring."
Schmidt and her colleagues interview families at registration.
"I've found it's the rare parent who doesn't want to talk about their child," Schmidt said.
The school social workers also visit homes.
"We might find out that the reason a child is late to school every day is because mom works third shift and just gets in at 7 a.m.," Schmidt said. "Or we might find out that the reason a child is sleepy in school is because there are no beds at home."
Sometimes what helps is before- or after-school care. Schmidt also has contacts with churches and other community organizations and often solicits donations. Schmidt was "really excited" recently to find a custodian at one of the elementary schools with a pickup truck. Now they can deliver sofas and beds to families.
Roxboro Elementary School Principal Tara Grove said Schmidt is a "wealth of knowledge."
"We are so lucky to have her," Grove said. "She really networks in the community and when someone needs help, she'll get it done."
Said Schmidt: "When you're a part of someone's life, when you can be part of that growth so they can accomplish what they want to do, it's really an honor."