John Samman is a Social Worker in School (SWiS) at Great Potentials Foundation. He works in two schools in Papakura: Redhill Primary School and Edmund Hillary Primary School. John has been working with Great Potentials Foundation for over 17 years. It is great to interview John and hear some of the amazing stories from him.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Ghana, West Africa. I trained and taught in Ghana as a 3 year Post Secondary teacher specialising in English and social studies. I came to New Zealand in the early 80s and after a year volunteering as a tutor in African studies in High Schools in Hamilton, a stint on sheep and cattle farms and fruit picking in the South Island, I moved to Auckland and worked as a Residential Social Worker and later as a Shift Team Leader at the Pakuranga Children’s Health Camp (previous name), now Stand Children’s Services. While working full time, I managed to get a Diploma in Social Work and then graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Auckland in 2004. Then I started at Great Potentials Foundation in 2005 as a Social Worker in Schools, a position I have held since. I am now a registered Social Worker and a member of the Aotearoa New Zealand Social Workers Association.

What is a typical day of your role as a SWiS Social worker?

Social Workers in Schools (SWiS) is a school-based service. I work in two schools in the Papakura area: Redhill Primary School and Edmund Hillary Primary School. The purpose of my role is to support children and their families with issues outside the classroom that may be affecting the well-being of the child and the child’s ability to learn.

On any given day, depending on a referral, I can be a broker, facilitator, advocate, or influencer. My day-to-day includes doing assessment and intervention planning with goals for change that build on the strengths and resilience of children, advocating for children and their families to ensure their needs are understood within the school setting, and planning and facilitating preventative and intervention group programmes to help children participate actively and achieve in learning and make a positive difference in their lives.

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What do you love the most about your job?

Improving the relationships between schools and the families of the children I work with to help reduce barriers to children’s learning achievement makes what I do as a SWIS worthwhile.

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Do you have any special or unforgettable moment to share during the time in this role?

There have been so many special and memorable times over the period that I have been a social worker. However, this one stands out.

There was an ex-student, who I worked with six years ago, trying to reconnect with me. On the day we met, he gave me a big hug and told me he had finished high school and was working as a qualified forklift operator. At his place of work, he encountered a lot of teasing and bullying from his coworkers. He told me he always remembered the work I did with him on how to cope with teasing and manage his anger. By remembering the skills he learnt during his primary school years, he managed to save his job. I thanked him and praised him for his effort.