February 25, 2022

‘The Calm Down Teacher’ is honored for her care, support of children

Social worker Patrice Uminski leads pre-school students at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg in practicing taking “mountain breaths” to help them calm down when they struggle with their motions. (Submitted photo)

Social worker Patrice Uminski leads pre-school students at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg in practicing taking “mountain breaths” to help them calm down when they struggle with their emotions. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

There’s no doubt that Patrice Uminski is honored and touched by the award she has received from the Indiana School Social Work Association. But it’s still not as cool as the nickname that one of her students has given her.

Describing being chosen by the organization as Indiana’s 2021 School Social Worker of the Year, Uminski says, “To be recognized by colleagues that I know are doing amazing work in their schools is truly humbling.

“I could not be successful in this role without the support from my school community, my community at Catholic Charities Indianapolis, and the gifts God has given me to be effective with helping children learn and grow socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually.”

Still, the greatest honors—plus that special nickname—come from the Catholic school children she has been helping for 17 years, including in her current roles as a social worker at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg and as the co-director of the archdiocese’s school social worker program for Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

“It’s really the little moments that stand out, like when you are working with a student on managing emotions, and you see him or her using the skills learned in a situation. Or when one of your students refers to you as ‘The Calm Down Teacher,’ ” she says.

“I had a moment when I ran into a previous student at the store—who was now in college—remembering me coming to their class to read a book about friendships and kindness. Those are the moments when you stop and think about the impact you have made on the lives of your students.”

As a school social worker, Uminski says she gets to combine the two loves in her life—helping people and working with children. The children she loves and loves to help face a variety of challenges.

‘It’s working together as a team’

For some students, it’s helping them overcome their shyness or anxieties.

For others, it’s helping them build their confidence, manage their anger and develop their ability to make good choices in the classroom, including in their interactions with classmates.

There are also the students who need another person to care and listen as they deal with a stressful situation at home or the death of a loved one.

“My approach is to recognize and build on the students’ strengths as well as to get a whole picture of what is happening in their daily lives and how that may be affecting them in the school setting.”

With co-director Sharmila John, Uminski also helps lead the 26 licensed social workers and counselors who serve 29 Catholic schools in the Indianapolis area. The staff provides counseling, crisis intervention, consultation and referral services, and programs that help students and teachers in the classroom.

“It’s working together as a team with your school staff to make school the best environment for all students,” she says.

“While being a school social worker can be challenging at times, it is so rewarding when you see students making progress on their goals or when you’re in the classroom and a student remembers a strategy you taught them about positive friendships or controlling anger.”

Uminski knows the gift and the importance of having the support of others in life.

“My family is always there for me, and they are the biggest blessing in my life. The support of my parents and siblings has always helped me have the confidence to do my work even in the tough times,” says Uminski, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “I am also thankful for a strong parish family.”

The Calm Down Teacher also draws strength and direction for her efforts with children from two of her favorite Bible verses, starting with 1 Cor 12:20, “As it is, there are many parts yet one body.” Then there is 1 Cor 12:26, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

“We are one school body which means we provide support for those parts that are in need,” she says. “My faith has always been an important part of my life and gives me the strength to help others.” †

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