By Lizbeth Trujillo
Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) is particularly privileged to have Barbara Ackermann, the school’s social worker who has been assisting students and staff for the past 12 years. Although many may be familiar with her immense contribution to the student body, others may also have misconceptions about how she helps students cope with their daily, psychological problems.
In order to become the impressive social worker that she is today, Ackermann had to put many hours into her education to earn her several degrees. Ackermann attended graduate school for social work and studied severe and persistent mental illnesses. Right out of grad school, she worked closely with 85 clients who had mental illnesses, were homeless, or had been in conflict with the law. However, she began to burn out when she realized that there were so many limitations to her clients’ recovery. She then received an opportunity to work as a therapist at a middle school where she recognized that she had a passion for working with teenagers.
Throughout her studies, Ackermann realized her ultimate objective was to broaden her knowledge on minorities. She earned an Associate’s Degree in Spanish, a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with a Minor in Anthropology, a Master’s degree in Social Work, and a Doctorate in Education to focusing on young people with severe emotional and behavioral impairments.
For Ackermann, a typical work day does not exist. No single day is the same as the next because she comes across unique problems and stories everyday. However, she faces the ongoing obstacle of trying to convince people that there is no such thing as “just teenage angst”, and that depression in teenagers is a real thing.
Although she finds it fairly challenging to convince certain people, she loves everything else about her job.
“Helping people find solutions to their problems, and sometimes saving lives is worthwhile. What I like best is when I get emails ten years later from somebody saying I made a difference in their life,” Ackermann said.
According to Ackermann, the biggest difference from being a school social worker in comparison to a traditional social worker is that she encounters every problem imaginable.
“You get every problem you can think of in a school setting. Whereas if you’re a social worker in an agency you only get the range of problems that agency deals with, either child abuse, mental health issues, or economic issues. Being a school social worker is the broadest you can get, so there’s always something new I have to learn because I haven’t seen it before,” Ackermann said.
By working at GHCHS, Ackermann has realized that the school is special because it is not constrained by the same rules and regulations as those of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). She loves that Granada honors the concept of the whole person rather than simply the importance of academics, and she plans on working at GHCHS for a long time.
“I want to stay here until I retire. I want to continue training social work students, which I’ve been doing for the last ten years. When I retire I want to work in a community-based clinic a few hours a week doing family therapy with families with very gnarly problems,” Ackermann said.