Meet Eric Cruz, School Social Worker on the Instructional Services team. Eric takes an active role in helping students develop self awareness concerning their emotions, and equipping them with the tools to maintain their well-being. “Students are more successful when they are able to reflect on their personal experiences and utilize effective coping skills to make better decisions,” he says.
He works with school counselors, administrators, and teachers, visits classrooms, and makes recommendations for how to improve the social-emotional learning of students. He also runs small-group and individual counseling sessions with students.
Eric holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from SUNY Albany and a Master of Social Work from Long Island University, and is certified as a School Social Worker by the New York State Education Department. He is also a member of Phi Alpha, an honor society for social workers. Over the past 10 years, he has worked with a variety of populations, including children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, and families. Working with schools is where he feels most at home, he says.
“I remember what it was like being a teen, trying to figure myself out and just wanting to feel accepted, that I belonged,” he says. “Often people at this age choose different ways of trying to achieve that, and some are not very healthy. I empower them to make better decisions as they build their identities.”
Before coming to Ulster BOCES this past December, Eric worked in the Poughkeepsie City School District as a case manager, providing support to students and families. He has also worked in New York City with students on probation to help them resolve family conflicts, and to find a suitable school setting.
Eric says that what’s at the forefront of educators’ minds today is mental health. Since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education as we knew it, the transition back to “normal” has been quite the challenge, he observes.
“Many students fell behind on not just academics, but social skills and maturity levels, as well,” he says. “Anxiety levels and altercations between students have risen.” Because of this, much of what Eric has been doing with students is reviewing exactly what appropriate classroom behavior looks like.
“As we try to reintroduce what things looked like before the pandemic, you can’t dismiss the fact that students have gone through great trauma in the last two years. You can’t expect them to be the same,” he says.
In addition, Eric has been emphasizing the value of building a good support system. This includes making students aware of neighborhood resources and teaching them how to reach out to others—like himself or other school personnel—who can help.
“No one can do it alone,” he says. “It is important to recognize what support you do have and use it.”
At home, Eric says his family is an excellent support system that gives him the energy to continue to make a positive impact on the lives of young people. He and his wife welcomed a new baby girl this January. They now have a full house of two sons and two daughters, which he is thrilled about. A native of Brooklyn, Eric also enjoys spending some down time watching his favorite New York teams: the Knicks, Giants, and Mets.