It all starts with the “relationship.”
After the 25 years Joseph Brogan has worked as a school social worker, those relationships are plenty. Twenty of those years were spent with the Rancocas Regional Valley High School in Mount Holly.
Now, Brogan has been named the 2023-’24 Governer’s Educational Service Professional of the Year. The Delran resident and father of two college-age sons said he’s humbled by the award, noting that others on his child study team include a school psychologist and learning consultant.
“The benefit of working as a social worker for 25 years speaks to the impact these kinds of interactions can have, all while providing a safe space for young people to impact the students positively and create the best environment for young scholars to advance,” he said.
“I think being a social worker who works in a public-school setting is important,” Brogan added, “because it reaffirms the importance of supporting each student’s social, emotional, behavioral health and wellness in addition to their academic growth.”
Brogan’s experience with the culture of Rancocas Valley schools played a pivotal role in his career. He also reflected on how he got there. The Marlton native attended Rowan College at Burlington County before transferring to Rutgers-Camden to earn his bachelor’s degree. He also holds a master’s of social work degree from Rutgers–New Brunswick.
“I started professionally as a medical social worker and wanted to work in geriatrics,” Brogan recalled. “By chance, I was offered a position in the Palmyra public school district and quickly realized I enjoyed working with kids.
“I also liked the idea of working on a multi-disciplinary team,” he added, explaining that such a team also includes occupational therapists and special education and general education teachers.
“I think you have better outcomes for students when you have different professionals providing their unique expertise.”
Brogan works primarily with special education students as they navigate academic, social, emotional or behavioral challenges.
“There’s a level of support I can provide during the day, and if students didn’t receive that support, they may be at greater risk for other challenges and difficulties down the road,” he related.
Brogan’s attention to detail and focus on the well-being of students helped him earn the governor’s award. Aside from a quarter century of experience, Brogan has offered advice to others about school social work.
“… When teachers come to me seeking answers on how to work with a difficult student, I tell them it all starts with the ‘relationship,'” he said. “If you focus on establishing a positive, working relationship with students, they are more likely to work for you in the classroom.”
Brogan’s own advice has helped him create a more controlled and connected student-teacher working environment. But he acknowledges some difficulties.
“… You don’t always see a student’s success or improvement while they’re in school …” he offered. “Sometimes it doesn’t click or make sense until later on in their lives.”
That aside, Brogan has learned to embrace the more uplifting part of his work, including using his time, energy and experience to impact future generational leaders.
“In some way, it has helped me come full circle in my own life …,” he reflected. “I was a troubled kid who hated school and ended up dropping out of high school. Looking back, I realize now that had I had someone like me in school to help me through, maybe I would have had a better experience in school.”