The Why of Social Work
Touro Graduate School of Social Work Alum Keneisha Newland Helps Children Succeed
My name is Keneisha Newland, and I'm the lead social worker here at Spark Academy. I graduated from Touro College Graduate School of Social Work in 2016. Let your inner self shine through. It's nice, right? My background in psychology really impacted my lens in social work.
I would say that psychology gave me the tools I needed to really understand the mind of individuals. When I started at Touro, social work really gave me the heart aspect. How can I understand what they're really thinking? How can we really interact on a different personal level to really affect change?
Most of our families are coming from low-income neighborhoods. A lot of our students are facing challenges, not only just environmental challenges. It could be physical, emotional, psychological challenges, economical challenges. They're exposed to so many different things at such a young age.
When I keep it in perspective, I think of myself when I was their age. A lot of times, we're undoing behavior that's been taught. So can I redo it? Can I try again? Can I fix my choices? And when you start to talk about the emotional aspect of it, how do you really measure that?
I measure that by your actions because that's telling me that you have not only listened to the words that I have shared or the lessons that we've done together, but you're actually doing them. And I can walk past in the hallway and see another scholar helping another scholar, which is really impactful, without anyone even prompting them to do it.
Those are the moments that I feel the most fulfilled, impacting change however small it may be. I love the relationship that I have built with my students. Above anything else, they continue to instill in me my "whys." Why did I want to be a social worker?
Each day at the Sparks Academy in Newark, New Jersey, lead social worker Keneisha Newland is reminded of the reasons she became a social worker.
“Social work is a journey,” explained Newland, who graduated from Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work in 2016. “You may not know where you’ll end up… You are going to wonder: why am I doing this? But at the end of this journey you will feel that much more satisfied that you have impacted people on a level that you probably can’t conceive.”
Newland, who also runs a private practice, Serenity, Courage & Wisdom Counseling, arrived at Sparks Academy with a background uniquely suited to helping her charges, many of whom come from disadvantaged and low-income households. Newland holds a master’s in psychology from Long Island University and worked in foster care agencies across New York and New Jersey while she studied for her social work degree. “As I worked with older populations of teenagers, especially those who were aging out of foster care, I realize how much greater of an impact I could have if I started working with children at a younger age,” recalled Newland. “I was especially drawn to working in schools, since children spend more time in school than they do at home.”
Her work involves coordinating services for students with education plans and providing counseling services. “A lot of time we’re undoing negative behavior that they have learned,” said Newland. “Can I teach them that making a mistake doesn’t mean the end of the world? Can I teach them to think differently about an interaction without blowing up?”
“Kids can do much more than the boxes we put them in,” she continued. “Success looks very different for each child.”
Newland said the greatest moments for her are watching her students outside of their sessions and observing if they’ve taken what she taught them to heart.
“When I see one of my students help his peer without being prompted by a teacher, that’s the second I feel the most fulfilled,” she said. “I have accomplished the mission of social work: I have impacted change and made a difference. I love my students and they continue to instill in me my why: why I became a social worker.”