Every so often on WGLT's The Leadoff podcast, we'll bring you the story of an unsung community servant who's making Bloomington-Normal a better place. It's a feature we call More of That, Please. Subscribe to The Leadoff on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also suggest local people we should feature.
Today we want to introduce you to Beth Beaty, a school social worker at Grove Elementary in northeast Normal.
Beaty knew from a young age she wanted to work in a helping profession. She learned that combination of strong work ethic and helping others from her parents. Dad was a farmer, mom a teacher.
“There are always options to any sort of problem we might face, no matter how big or small,” Beaty said. “People just need a non-judgmental ear sometimes to offer some support.”
Beaty’s career started years ago in the Unit 5 school district. She took some time off when she had her own kids (two boys). She’s back now, in her second year at Grove Elementary.
Principal Sarah Edwards said Beaty regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty, often outside the four walls of the school building.
“Beth works with us at Grove three days a week,” Edwards said. “And I like to joke that’s a 0.6 position, and we get about 2.0 people out of her because her work ethic is so strong.”
She says Edwards makes Grove's families feel comfortable. She builds trust. That’s a key ingredient if you’re really going to help someone.
Edwards points to a family that moved into Grove’s boundaries last school year. Beaty helped the kids get beds.
"The first time I met the mom, I knew she was a person who had the drive and motivation to better her life," Beaty said.
This year, after finding out the family’s housing situation, Beaty helped them find a new apartment—and her own family even pitched in during move-in.
“This particular mother in the family is working really, really hard to be in school, go to school, have a job, go to the job, and one of the issues they faced was unreliable transportation,” Edwards said. “And Beth worked with some connections she had in the community to fill that need, and so that this family could continue that forward movement and do great things.”
Helping find beds, housing, a car—that’s not what automatically comes to mind when you think about what public schools provide to their students. But increasingly, it’s part of the job.
“We can’t just be educating our students in the areas of reading, writing, and math. We have to be educating our students to be socially and emotionally strong to handle those challenges that come their way,” Edwards said.
To do that, kids need extra practice with the social and emotional skills that allow you to face challenges. This year, Beaty is helping Grove students learn about the “toolbox” they have inside of them.
“We’ve been doing a lot with everybody about what kinds of things are in their toolbox. Like deep breathing or taking a walk or taking a break, things like that. So they can get their mind back ready for learning,” Beaty said.
Beaty is just one part of the Student Support Team at Grove Elementary, which was recently recognized at a Unit 5 school board meeting. Edwards said Beaty and her colleagues have benefited from training offered by Unit 5 and its teachers union, UFEA, about how past trauma impacts students in today's classroom.
And there’s evidence this is all working: Grove Elementary earned the highest possible designation (Exemplary) on its latest School Report Card from the state.
"Unit 5 has many amazing social workers and psychologists who do the same things I do every day," Beaty said. "There are many things they do that aren't necessarily part of the job description, but they do them because they are helpers and they care. That happens often in education. There are so many teachers who go above and beyond for kids too."
The job isn't easy. Beaty says there's a lot of paperwork, and she’d rather be out in the field doing face-to-face meetings. And she's got a family of her own, with two very busy sons.
“There’s not a lot of downtime in my life right now,” Beaty said with a laugh. “But that’s OK. I will rest later on in my life.”