School Social Workers Light the Way


DELAND - Volusia County Schools recognized the week of March 7-13, 2021 as “National School Social Work Week.” The theme of the week, “Beacon of Hope: School Social Workers – Lighting the Way,” showcased how VCS school social workers light the way by emphasizing the whole child, while collaborating with other professionals and linking students and families with needed services.

Featured school social workers included: 

Shelia Cook, MSW, LCSW

As a school social worker at four schools, Sheila Cook, finds it extremely rewarding to link students and families to community services that assist students in overcoming barriers to academic achievement. By working with students to teach skills to cope with emotions or stress in a strength-based, positive way, students can see their potential, learn how to embrace school and life and thrive. She is most proud of helping students who are struggling by understanding their obstacles and removing them so the student can be successful in their life. 

Teresa Wright, MSW, CPP

As a 25-year school social worker, Teresa Wright, worked with thousands of students to assist them and their families make positive changes in their lives. By sitting down with students and taking the time to listen and explore what is going on in their lives, she asks questions designed to understand the barriers causing them challenges in their lives and education. She is then able to assist students with resources (educational, financial, counseling, etc.) for themselves and their families. In her spare time, she leads “Teresa’s Kids Christmas,” a charity identifying families in need during the Christmas season and was recently presented the Human Rights Award from New Church Family. 

Lissette Fernandez, LCSW

Another 25-year veteran School Social Worker, Lissette Fernandez, utilizes her unique talents, as a bilingual speaker, to connect multiple resources to achieve her goal of creating empowered students and families who understand it is ok to ask for help. By having school, family, and community systems working together to encourage students to do their best, doors are opened to a better future for students and the community. While following the curriculum in her Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) class, Ms. Fernandez helps students understand the brain and how trauma affects them. Students learn techniques so they can process information better and thus effectively learn how to reach their identified goals, including graduating.

Jennifer Watley, LCSW

As the District Homeless Liaison, school social worker Jennifer Watley helps students and families get back on their feet by providing guidance and linking families to resources available to support identified needs (rehousing, deposits, gas, food, etc.). Many families experiencing transition have been hit by hard times such as illness, loss of job, domestic violence, divorce, etc. and require extra support and guidance to overcome challenges and regain housing stability.  Jennifer also writes and oversees the grant for Title IX as well as smaller grants provided by private trusts, churches, nonprofits, and individuals who wish to support students in transition. With her office in the DeLand Transportation Complex, she has a unique relationship with VCS bus drivers and aids, who routinely see children in need and will link them to the program, People Experiencing Transition and Loss (PETALS), for support when appropriate. If you work with students experiencing transition or you would like to donate to PETALS, please contact Jennifer Watley, LCSW. 

Melisa Burke, MSW

A school social worker for over 30 years and a graduate of Mainland High School, Melissa Burke, says it is refreshing to be home and give back to the same education system that educated her.  As the attendance court liaison, she enjoys providing support and assistance for students with attendance issues and is most proud of the attendance initiatives she introduced which resulted in a decrease in chronic absenteeism here in Volusia County. As a school social worker she works together with families, school staff,  social workers, and other community partners and advocates for  students  to reach the goal of attending school regularly and graduating so that they can become successful in their lives and become educated, well-rounded, happy citizens.

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