Meet Erin Harmon, Community Support Specialist
Four Oaks Community Support Specialist Role Adds Capacity to FMCSD
Through a collaboration with Four Oaks Family Services, the Fort Madison School District has been able to provide a new resource for students and families starting in the 2022-2023 school year. As the new Community Support Specialist (CSS), Erin Harmon works to bridge the gap between students, families, and the school community through establishing relationships, supplying community resources and referrals, providing ongoing case management for families, and embedding a holistic and restorative mindset within the school community among both teachers and families.
The Four Oaks CSS role was originally designed and implemented in 2012 in partnership with the Cedar Rapids Community Schools. Since its inception, this position and model has been replicated at two elementary schools in Cedar Rapids, and it is most recently serving the whole district of Fort Madison.
“While I was initially concerned with how I would find resources for families in a rural setting, the response I have received from community partners has been truly extraordinary,” says Harmon about her experience. “Providers and school staff have been incredible in helping me create a network of support while gathering information on the resources available. My favorite part so far has been building relationships with the families and connecting them with supports they didn't even know existed. Though often hard to find, the resources are out there, and I am so honored to play a small role in helping people access them.”
Keeping in line with Four Oaks’ Total Child and Trauma-Informed philosophies, Harmon uses a variety of strategies, such as Community-Building Circles, to help build relationships both with families and in the classrooms. These questions range from asking about who you look up to, and who makes you laugh, to thinking about things you like to do or who takes your mind off of stressful topics. Harmon also follows practical strategies for healthy vulnerability. This includes daily check-ins and rating how you felt each day. By providing a safe place to talk about experiences and emotions, Circles and check-ins are social-emotional tools that can be used in a number of situations. Some examples include restoring a damaged relationship after harm has occurred, processing a traumatic event, or creating an environment of support in a classroom.
Through referrals submitted by school staff, the Community Support Specialist works with families to help them identify any needs they have and what community services are available to help fill those needs. This can cover a wide range of areas, from food and housing assistance to therapy, substance use, behavioral health resources, and anything in between. “The ultimate goal,” according to Harmon, “is to empower families to take on their challenges while ensuring they know the school and community are there with whatever support they are able to provide.” FMCSD is grateful to the Board of Directors for supporting the important work of Four Oaks and the Community Support Specialist in providing necessary interventions for the success and well-being of our students and families.