Alumna Monique Goris wins Hazelwood School District Social Worker of the Year
Monique Goris was enjoying a day off work when her phone rang.
Jazell Thomas, coordinator of counseling and social work services for the Hazelwood School District, was on the other end of the line, calling to ask Goris if she was on campus. The question seemed a bit odd, but Goris informed Thomas that she was out of the office.
When Thomas asked if she’d checked her inbox, Goris suspected something was up.
“That prompted me to go and peek,” Goris said. “When I did, I had seen that I received an email from the director of human resources with a letter saying, ‘Congratulations, well deserved.’ That’s when I texted my coordinator and was like, ‘Are you serious?’”
That’s how Goris, a graduate of the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and social worker for three elementary schools in the district, learned she had been named the 2021-2022 Hazelwood School District Social Worker of the Year by her peers.
“It came at a very good time in my life because I felt like I needed that boost of confidence, reassurance that I was doing the best that I could for the students,” she said of the accolade. “Oftentimes, when you have three buildings, it feels like it’s hard to make a difference. So I honestly felt honored.”
Goris’ social work career began as a family advocate and educator with Youth In Need before completing UMSL’s MSW program and joining HSD as a social worker in 2019. However, growing up in Weslaco, Texas, a small town 15 minutes from the Mexican border, she didn’t know what career path she’d take or if she’d ever leave the Rio Grande Valley.
That changed toward the end of high school.
Despite her diminutive 4’11” frame, Goris was a skilled high school wrestler, and she attracted the attention of a recruiter from Lindenwood University. He regularly attended Goris’ meets and talked to her about the possibility of competing in college and receiving an education.
She remained uncertain about leaving Texas until senior year when the recruiter offered her an athletic scholarship. She seized the opportunity, but it took time for her to find her footing in college.
Initially, due to her interest in sports, Goris entered the bachelor’s program in athletic training. She quickly realized the field wasn’t for her and switched her major to nursing. Something was still missing, though.
Goris turned to her family for advice.
“I had called my mom letting her know what’s going on, and she took it upon herself to call someone at Lindenwood to let them know how I was feeling – that I wasn’t really fitting into those things,” Goris said. “Somebody reached out to me. I believe he was the dean of the College of Education. He called me into his office and said, ‘Well, what do you like to do? I see that you went from athletic training to nursing. Have you ever heard of social work?’”
The dean noted that athletic training, nursing and social work all involve helping people and the latter might interest Goris. The conversation convinced her to enroll in an introductory course. The work immediately appealed to Goris, but as she progressed through the social work program, she kept waiting for an, “Aha moment.”
It came while reviewing a case study in Professor Carla Mueller’s class. The study concerned an elderly Hispanic woman in hospice care whose family kept making decisions against her wishes. Mueller asked the class what was going through the woman’s mind. Her classmates seemed to be at a loss, but Goris raised her hand.
“I said, ‘I believe that she’s afraid of what she’s leaving behind, and she’s afraid of letting go,’” Goris said. “That’s when I saw in my professor that she was proud. She congratulated me and sent me an email saying that she saw how much I would do for this field.”
Goris graduated with her BSW in 2015 and began working with Youth In Need’s Head Start program in St. Charles, Missouri, to gain experience in the field. After working with the organization for about a year and a half, her husband and friends encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree.
She decided to attend UMSL in part because of its affordability, but also because the MSW program offered flexibility for students working full-time. The program proved to be rigorous, but she also found a close-knit community that helped her grow personally and professionally.
“There were some classes where I was definitely challenged with who I am as a person,” Goris said. “A lot of classes at UMSL helped me open up more doors in my mind in regard to how I thought or how I perceived something. The professors definitely had the best intentions in mind for all their students.”
After graduating from UMSL in 2019, Goris joined HSD as a social worker. She splits her time between three elementary schools, providing services and care in several key areas.
Goris checks in with a regular roster of students, intervenes with students who have experienced trauma at home or conflict with another student and leads several student groups that tackle topics such as friendship, grief and social skills. She also helps provide resources, such as food, for families in need of assistance.
The transition to remote classes at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for Goris. She missed students stopping by her office to talk and connecting with them face-to-face. But now that in-person classes have resumed and a sense of normalcy has returned, it has energized her.
“I feel great being able to give them what they deserve,” Goris said.
Goris also feels thankful for the award and credits her family for helping her reach her full potential.
“There was a time in my life growing up where I could see myself maybe not getting as far as I have,” she said. “I would say because of my upbringing in the Mexican culture – I am a first-generation student – it definitely feels like all the hard work my parents did growing up and their sacrifices finally have paid off. I’m proud not just because I received this award but because I feel like I received it because of them and for them. I enjoy being able to give back, and I will never forget where I came from.”
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