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Stefanie Mazva-Cohen Strives to Help All CHCCS Students

Stefanie Mazva-Cohen, school social worker at Culbreth Middle School, embodies the prized qualities for mental health professionals: resourcefulness, open-mindedness, empathy and a broad life experience. At the school district’s annual recognition reception in May, she received the CHCCS 2017-18 Exceptional Children Student Services Staff of the Year Award. Janet Cherry, system of care director, said of Mazva-Cohen, “She gets excited about learning, a social worker who is a teacher at heart and a mentor to many.”

Now starting her sixth year at Culbreth, Mazva-Cohen toured the world before landing in our  district. She began her career in education as a middle school social studies teacher in southeast Los Angeles, in a district with the city’s highest population of group home and foster care children. During those years, she trained in a substance abuse prevention program, as well as anger management course. “It was a great time to be in LA,” she said, “because there were so many innovative programs starting up that have since led the way across the country over the past 20 years.”

Next she taught for a year in a small seaside town near Kobe, Japan, where the schools were the epicenter of most community activity and engagement. The experience spurred her to ask of everything she was observing, “How do we improve our own education system?”

When she decided to take a break from education, it was a 180 - working in sales development at HBO - a heady, often whirlwind experience during the first wave of successes at the then-new channel. She was living in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. “Living through that, I realized I don’t care about my numbers, my subscribers. That trauma put things in perspective. After that, I wanted to go back into doing something that mattered.”

She married her husband Ari (who is a principal in Durham), and while her two children were toddlers, she earned her Masters of Social Work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her first job after graduate school was as the middle school substance abuse prevention specialist with Dale Pratt-Wilson, a local leader in drug and alcohol awareness education. Two years in Paris followed, while her husband served as director of the Marymount School there. In yet another distinctive educational setting, Mazva-Cohen continued to absorb, reflect and question.

Then Culbreth came calling. When Mazva-Cohen spoke about her colleagues and the leadership - and most of all, the students - her smile was even brighter. She has built a home at Culbreth, and many adults and children there say they can’t imagine the school without her.

“One of the things I appreciate most about Stefanie is how hard she works to support our kids’ families - whether it's in the creation of the Family Resource Center, bringing amazing resources into our building like Pet Pals, or working individually with students and families to support their needs,” said her colleague Matt Raub. “As a counselor, I lean on her all the time to take the lead on a lot of difficult situations, as well as relying on her knowledge and network of resources in the area.”

Raub won the same district award for 2016-17. “Our team is fantastic,” Mazva-Cohen said of the Culbreth staff. “We are always working hard to meet our students where they are.” During the ever-challenging developmental stages of the middle grades, what better praise can be shared than to highlight a team’s collaboration and dedication.

The Family Resource Center at Culbreth is the only one of its kind in the district, and Mazva-Cohen worked with Director of Title I and Family and Community Engagement, Roslyn Moffitt, during the spring of 2017 to create a warm, welcoming space in the center of the school. She has built an impressive library for families to check out books or DVD’s on issues ranging from bullying to ADHD. She has designed events for both staff and parents to learn from staff and each other. Last spring she scheduled sessions for all Culbreth teachers to come to the center during their planning periods to view the TED Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on ACES (adverse childhood experiences) and Resilience. “We talked about ACES and how it applies to our work at Culbreth,” said Mazva-Cohen. She reported that the discussions were rich and productive.

As Mazva-Cohen looks to the upcoming school year, her plate is already overflowing, yet her energy seems boundless. Alongside Moffitt, she serves as co-chair of the Family Engagement Summit committee, and she’ll be front and center at the upcoming Summit, “Realizing and Cultivating Potential,” on October 6 at Culbreth.

As the point person at Culbreth for sharing and integrating trauma-informed strategies in and out of the classroom, she works to make sure all of their practices are infused with trauma-informed care. “It’s not just best practice for our children who’ve experienced trauma. It’s best practice all around.”

She stays in close communication with the other district social workers, especially those from the elementary schools which feed into Culbreth. “Our work is a continuum. These are our kids, and they’re our kids all the way through. As a district, it’s so important to be using a common language and practices. We need to make sure we’re raising these kids together.”

Culbreth Principal Monica Bintz offered a final word. “Ms. Mazva-Cohen is constantly looking for new and creative ways to ensure our Culbreth families have all their needs met. She is the quiet force behind the scenes who leaves no stone unturned if it will be of benefit to kids and families.”