Holy Trinity partners with Youth First

Abby Betz


JASPER — For Youth First Social Worker Abby Betz, her post at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Jasper is a bit of a dream come true.

Holy Trinity and Youth First of Evansville announced last week a partnership that will place Betz at the school to provide social work services. Youth First is a nonprofit that partners with 90 schools across 11 Indiana counties to provide master's level social workers to the schools and their communities. Betz will be the Youth First social worker serving Holy Trinity.

For the last three years, Betz has been the Youth First social worker serving Warrick County schools. The move to Holy Trinity is the realization of Betz's longtime goal to serve her home county.

The daughter of Larry and Kathy Tenbarge, Betz grew up in Huntingburg and graduated from Southridge High School in 2005. Her parents were teachers, so she spent a lot of time in schools growing up. Although she knew teaching wasn't for her, she still wanted to work in the school environment.

"I really just enjoy working with kids," she said.

That led her to school social work and a degree in psychology from The Ohio State University. She also holds a master's degree in social work from the University of Southern Indiana.

"I just want to get the word out that there is someone at school who can help in tough times and is focused on social-emotional learning," Betz said.

Social-emotional learning is the process through which children and adults learn to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve goals and maintain positive relationships.

As a school social worker, Betz will be on hand to help students, teachers and families at Holy Trinity build skill sets and mindsets of resiliency. It's a job that's particularly important this year as school communities grapple with transitioning back to in-person classes after school shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the uncertainty about what the school year will look like as the pandemic continues.

"They need to have their feelings validated and have someone say, 'Yeah, this is hard, but we're going to get through it together,'" Betz said.

Some of the changes Betz and her colleagues expect to guide students through include wearing masks all day and not being able to sit by their friends at lunch due to COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Betz will be on campus at Holy Trinity three days a week. Of those three days, two will be spent at East Campus with the third- through eighth-graders and one will be spent at Central Campus with the preschool through second-graders. Her job will include one-on-one counseling, group sessions and classroom lessons on coping mechanisms and other mental health skills. At East Campus, she'll also help the older students begin learning workforce readiness skills.

The biggest part of her job, Betz said, will be building a relationship with each of the students so they all know they can come to her if they're struggling.

"It's a very dynamic position and something we've been looking to expand at Holy Trinity," said Jenna Seng, principal at Holy Trinity's Central Campus.

Prior to the partnership with Youth First, Holy Trinity partnered with Catholic Charities for school counseling services. While that partnership worked well, the counselor was only on campus one day a week, said Jon Tempel, principal at Holy Trinity's East Campus.

Recently, Catholic Charities told Seng and Tempel they would no longer provide school counseling services, so the pair started researching other options. Seng and Tempel learned about Youth First through other Catholic schools within the Diocese of Evansville. They looked into it and felt the Youth First model matched Holy Trinity's mission of serving the whole student — mind, body and spirit. They thought Holy Trinity's students would benefit from a partnership.

"The Youth First model is very much about prevention and preparation," Tempel said. "It's supporting the needs of students but also teaching them coping skills so when something happens, they're prepared."

It's still early in the school year, but Tempel said Betz has jumped right in, and he believes the partnership will go a long way toward ensuring Holy Trinity provides social-emotional learning for its students.

"This is going to be a blessing for our students," he said.

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