Social worker Diane Bias-Mosel and Hispanic outreach coordinator Soraida Palacios form a dynamic duo that has been humming for 16 years at Sibley East Schools in Gaylord, Minn.
Sometimes, all Diane Bias-Mosel and Soraida Palacios need is five minutes -- five minutes to check in, cry or share a joke -- before returning to work feeling a whole lot better. Those breaks have kept the dynamic duo humming for 16 years at Sibley East Schools in Gaylord, Minn. When Soraida was hired in 1994 as the school's Hispanic Outreach Coordinator, there wasn't much outreach to do. Today, about 37 percent of the school's 341 elementary school students are Hispanic, many reappearing annually in May and September as their parents migrate to Minnesota for seasonal work. Regardless, the kids need to be in school. Soraida and Diane, the school's social worker, make sure that happens seamlessly. They interview parents for special education assessments, attend individualized education program meetings, manage behavior issues, and find housing and social services.
They also make sure the little things that loom large in the eyes of a child are addressed. "I'll turn to Diane if the kids need school supplies," Soraida says. Sometimes, kids quietly tell Soraida that they hunger for a friend. Diane and Soraida will find a bilingual guide for the student or create a friendship group during lunchtime. Parents know they can trust Diane and Soraida. "They may feel more comfortable with me, because they can't communicate their feelings in English yet," Soraida says. "But Diane knows what questions to ask." Once, they visited a house that was unlivable. They got a church to find money to help the family move. On another home visit, a 7-year-old with severe cerebral palsy was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. His parents didn't know he was supposed to be in school. Diane and Soraida linked the family to services, secured a wheelchair, had a ramp built and got the boy into school.
Soraida, who grew up in Texas, lives in Gaylord. Diane lives on a nearby farm. They have become best friends, eating out together with their husbands, taking a Zumba class and a cruise to the Bahamas. "She's a caring, wonderful person," Soraida says of Diane. "She always thinks about what people might be feeling." Diane is equally grateful for Soraida's gifts. "She's empathetic, warm, smart," Diane says. "I often say to her, 'That's a great idea.'"