Skip to content

In the Classroom: School Social Work with Ailayna Gaffney

Ailayna Gaffney

BSW Intern, University Primary School

A photo of Ailayna Gaffney against a blue sky and meadow

From social work student to University Primary School intern, the journey of learning continues for Ailayna Gaffney.

Social Work BSW student Ailayna Gaffney is currently interning at University Primary School, turning school social work theory into action. Her semester has been full of not only working with her combined second- and third-grade classroom to help educate and empower the next generation, but also of self-discovery as she navigates this particular field of social work.

Ailayna was not always sure that social work was her calling. “Growing up my dad served in the military and we moved about every two years,” she says. “As a result of this, I found it very difficult to feel connected to resources and services that I would’ve benefited from receiving. As I got older and was able to look back on how I felt, I knew I wanted to go into a field where I could help others and hopefully prevent them from having those same or similar feelings.

When I started college at Butler, I went through three different majors before realizing I wanted to do Social Work as it aligned the most with what I wanted to do and how I wanted to help people. When I made this realization, I also decided to transfer here to University of Illinois to pursue my BSW.”

Throughout her internship, Ailayna has organized numerous engaging and educational events for her students. These include a Lunar New Year celebration where students created a patchwork dragon, inspired by the book Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon they had read in class. Following a presentation on Black athletes for Black History Month, the students enthusiastically participated in a DIY Winter Olympics, which was so well-received that it will return as the DIY Summer Olympics.

Ailayna also had the opportunity to share her own family history and shared a presentation of her great-great-great-great grandfather, E.W.F Stirrup, and his role in the creation of the Coconut Grove neighborhood in Miami, Florida. The familial connection did not end there: her father, an Army Veteran, came in for a show-and-tell and helped answer students’ questions. There is also an upcoming field trip planned for the students to visit the Chez Veterans Center.

“There is so much inspiration and goals for these events,” Ailayna says on the topic of engaging her students. “Starting with goals, they all in a way revolve around giving the students something new to be introduced to or expanding on what they already know. Every day I’m amazed by all the things my students know, which is what makes it exciting for me to find something new for them to learn about or expand on.

That said, with the projects that I’ve done in my classroom, I often get inspiration from my students and things they’re working on. For example, with the presentation about my great-great-great-great grandfather or when my dad came in to talk to them, it was because of the Black History projects they were working on. Another time I gave a presentation on positive self-talk and that was purely inspired by the actions of one of my students.

As for the projects I’ve worked on with the other interns like the patchwork dragon or the Winter Olympics, those came out of brainstorming sessions with our director of UPS, Ali, and we all worked together to bring those ideas to life.”

Amidst these events, Ailayna found joy in connecting her father to her work. “Each of these events holds such a special place in my heart, but I would say out of all of them my favorite has been having my dad come in and speak with my class. My military background is a large part of who I am and my dad and I are very close. In these last few months, my students have had such an impact on me as well and I speak so highly of them and my classroom team. Being able to share these two things with the other was something that gave me such an unforgettable joy.

Seeing the faces of my students light up at being able to hear things my dad had to say, as well as seeing the show and tell items he brought in for them, as well as seeing how my dad lit up upon seeing them and the thank you cards my students made for him as well. I often downplay many of the things I do, but this is something I couldn’t be prouder of doing and more thankful to have had the opportunity to do so.”

“The most impactful moment of my internship happened a few weeks ago,” she goes on to say. “I was talking with two of my students when one asked me if I was coming back next year, to which I told her I wasn’t and explained why. She then proceeded to tell me she was happy and sad about it and I jokingly gave her a hard time about her answer. She told me she was okay with it because she’d be moving into the 4/5 classroom so she wouldn’t be seeing me anyway. However, she said that she would be sad because I’m so awesome and that she will miss me.

For a while, I was questioning my abilities and the application of my social work skills, but hearing her and other students say things like this over the course of the semester has helped me feel more confident and like I’ve been making an impact in my classroom.”

Spending the semester at University Primary School has left an impactful impression on Ailayna and her approach to, as well as understanding of, social work. “I didn’t have much familiarity with school social work because it wasn’t mentioned much in my classes,” she says. “However, instead of shying away from the opportunity to intern here, I decided to use it as my chance to see if it was something I wanted to pursue in the future. After being here, I’ve learned so much about myself as well as the intersection of schools and social work which I’m so appreciative of. My classroom team has been so amazing and helped me in so many ways during my internship, and being able to learn from them, the other social work interns, and my students has been such a great experience.

My internship at University Primary has influenced my approach in so many ways. To start, UPS is a Reggio-Emilia lab school through the College of Education. Reggio-Emilia places the student at the center and emphasizes their curiosity and desire to learn. Seeing how this occurs in the classroom and how it appears in the student’s learning has helped me to see how in education, different methods can help with their learning and development. On top of that, having the experience of working with kids who are growing up differently than I did, is also keeping me aware of how the skills I’m using might have to be tailored a bit to work better with said population.”

Lastly, Ailayna has some words of wisdom for other students pursuing Social Work. She advises all students to “take advantage of the connections you can make during your time here. As someone who transferred here as a junior, it was difficult adjusting to coming from a school of just under 5,000 people to one with roughly 55,000. However, those at the School of Social Work, both students and faculty, made that transition much easier than I expected. I’ve made such great connections during my time here and would encourage others to do the same.”

The future is bright as summer approaches and the internship comes to an end. “As of right now, there are two main plans I want to pursue,” Ailayna shares. “Over the summer I want to earn my sports social work certificate on the track of collegiate and professional athletes, and in the fall, start working toward my master’s in school social work.”

Back To Stories
Cookie Settings