Fireda Ahmed is a Registered Social Worker with the French-language Public School Board of Eastern Ontario (CEPEO). She works in two elementary schools and is co-leading a project on equity and inclusion.
What does your job entail as a school social worker?
I lead solution-focused counseling and therapy and often work with students who need help with social skills, emotional regulation, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Many of our students are refugees and new immigrants.
Why did you choose social work?
I come from an immigrant family and my parents really wanted me to study health sciences. So I went to McGill for physiology, but by the end of the first year, I realized it wasn’t for me. After completing my science degree, I pursued a minor and began exploring different subjects. That’s when I found social psychology, which was my savior.
It was through that program that I learned about social work and it called to me. There was a huge shortage of social workers in the Muslim community, along with a huge demand.
How does your personal experience help in the workplace?
I speak English, French and Arabic so I can listen to students in any of those languages. Building trust and confidence is the number one objective and while they’ll often start speaking in French, they switch to their mother tongue when they become emotional.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I think it’s wonderful as a social worker when you give a voice to a child because it’s tough for them to stick up for themselves. The pace in the school means there isn’t always time for adults to listen to them, so I feel it’s a privilege that I’m able to do that.
How did your MSW degree prepare you for your career?
We were taught by both academics and registered social workers, so we learned how to apply evidence-based theories into clinical practice. That was the key to moving into professional work.
Can you tell us about the research project you’re involved with?
Our school board is working with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Equity Secretariat on a new project to improve equity and inclusion. We’re working to increase teachers’ awareness of how social location, privilege and dynamics of power affect their relationship to students and the student’s success rate.
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