Beth Murray Hinshaw – Class of 1985
Social Worker, South Caldwell High School, Hudson, NC;
Social Work Program Coordinator, Caldwell County Schools
When most people think of the public school system, they usually focus on classes, athletics, clubs, music, and other activities. But there are many young people in our society who may not be as visible as others and who struggle just to survive. Our schools play an important role in helping them to succeed as well. Beth Murray Hinshaw, in her job as social worker at South Caldwell High School in Hudson, is one of the people who make that success happen.
“Before coming to Caldwell County in 2018,” says Beth, “I worked for ten years as a medical hospice social worker and bereavement counselor in Mount Airy and then became the director of social work and the grief program. I loved working with people. I had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Appalachian State and had often thought that I should have studied social work instead. So when the opportunity came my way, I decided to earn an MSW through Virginia Commonwealth University. The University is in Richmond, but I was able to study off campus at their satellite program at Radford University in Radford, VA.
“While in graduate school, I participated in a number of internships. For example, I interned for a while in the emergency room at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem and at a mental health center in Mount Airy. I learned so much that has helped me to deal with issues in my job today working with high school students with mental health challenges.
“I worked first in an elementary school. I enjoyed it, but I really love working in a high school. Many of my students are on their own; often their parents are out of the picture because of a variety of issues such as drug use or incarceration. It’s a real struggle for them just to get to school. They often don’t see the value of school, and situations in their lives cause them to frequently have poor attendance. They usually have jobs; some have been living through trauma; many have anger issues; others are parents themselves. Teens with these issues often don’t make the right choices. They often drop out of school, but fortunately many come back. Working with them and eventually seeing them graduate is the best feeling I could ever have. I know how hard their lives have been and how difficult it was for them to reach this milestone.
“In recent years, my duties and responsibilities have expanded beyond being a social worker at one school, and I also serve as the social work coordinator for the school system. I coordinate the programs throughout the county and work closely with educators at all of the schools. Fortunately, the teachers and counselors work together to practice what is known as social and emotional learning. Of course, there are challenges. We have a lack of mental health resources and providers in our area. It’s a problem because when a child or teen in crisis needs help, he or she cannot wait until an opening. If we had more psychological services, we could help more young people more quickly.
“Another problem in our area is lack of low-income housing. The school system is able to help young people who are homeless for whatever reason, but only on a short term basis. We do provide transportation to and from school if they have to relocate within the district. We try to supply what they need including some food and clothing. South Caldwell is particularly fortunate to have space to keep supplies such as clothing, shoes, food items, and personal hygiene products that we can supply to students who are in need.
“The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal program designed to help homeless youth have what they need to attend and succeed in school. Young people 21 years and younger who are defined as ‘unaccompanied youth’ - that is they are not physically living with a custodial parent – can qualify for assistance. There is a great deal of regulation of the program, and one of my jobs is to keep up with the legal aspects and train other educators about aspects of and changes in the program.
“We are also fortunate in Caldwell County to have major support from the community. Some examples include local churches that help supply graduation needs for these young people. Bernhardt Furniture has given all of the county school social workers a gift card that can be used to provide $50 for each student for emergencies during the school year. We appreciate that they trust us to know when a student may need that help. Google provided Christmas for 75 young people last year, and Bernhardt took 45 more. Other organizations, banks, and businesses have also helped out.
“The Department of Juvenile Justice also assists by providing programs to help kids who are on probation. For example, many attend a musical therapy program, others learn to cook through a chef’s program, and some enjoy art projects at the Hudson Urban Building (the HUB). All of these activities work together to help these young people learn worthwhile skills and become more successful.
“One program I especially find valuable is called Restorative Justice. If a child or young person is charged for a violation and given probation, he or she can go before a jury of their peers, in this case students from other schools who do not know them, and they all discuss what the young person should do to be held accountable for the infraction. The offending youth must report back to the group and show that he or she has done something helpful and good. The program works well because the young person experiences something positive. If you tell kids that they only do something wrong, they keep doing wrong because that’s all they know how to do. But if they can learn gratification and see how it feels to be appreciated for doing good, they are more likely to continue to do good and show others how to do something good as well. It is much less likely that they will continue to make the same mistakes. Young people at this age can still change. Their brains are still developing during their teen years, and repeating good actions helps them move in the right direction. Seeing growth and positive change makes my job worthwhile. I really enjoy seeing them become more responsible and confident.”
Beth considers many of her experiences at East Burke as inspirations for her life and career today. “I loved high school so much. Being a part of the Student Government showed me I could be a successful leader. I also loved being a cheerleader. I learned how to be a team member and enjoyed being a part of the athletic program. Anchor Club, an organization dedicated to service, taught us to give back to our community.
“I enjoyed my teachers very much, and I can’t think of a single negative interaction with any of them. They helped give me the confidence to know I could succeed in college and in the challenges of a career. I was especially inspired by Sam Wilkinson, my uncle Jerry Murray, Anne Stephens, and Betty Pennell, who was so nice and who never gave up on us. There was such a family atmosphere at East Burke. It seemed to me that everyone was looking out for everyone else. Teachers at South Caldwell remind me of my East Burke teachers. They, like my own teachers, invest a lot in the school and the wellbeing of the students.
“Just as an observation, in my years both as a student and as a school employee, I have come to notice that physical education teachers and coaches have a unique opportunity to make positive connections with students. Being able to work one on one with a student in class provides a chance to make a real difference.”
With all of her success in school social work, Beth also has goals that are meaningful to her and to the people she serves. “I would like to pursue a doctorate degree. Perhaps I could teach and help train other social workers, or I could be a director of student services somewhere. Knowing that I could make even more of a difference and contribute in new and exciting ways is very motivating to me. I currently serve on the board of the North Carolina School Social Workers Association, and I would like to continue in that capacity. I would also like to be more of an advocate for the school social workers, including campaigning for equal pay and inspiring others to take part in this rewarding career.”
Working with young people in crisis, whether it be with mental health issues, homelessness, or day to day struggles, is a truly rewarding career for Beth. Whatever she chooses to do in the future, she will continue to contribute in meaningful ways to her community and to the world.
Published November 2023