Monday, April 18, 2011
The difference that a dedicated and effective school social worker can make in a school community was recognized in an exciting and unprecedented way with the selection of Forest Hills school social worker Stephanie Thornton as the “Teacher of the Year” in her Grand Rapids, Michigan district with over 700 teachers and professional staff; the first time that this award has been given to a non-classroom teacher.
Stephanie was nominated by her principal, who described her as a tireless advocate for children, “a champion for those children who need a champion.” She was particularly recognized for her leadership in developing supports for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the school, including a very successful “LINKS” program pairing regular education students with students with ASD in various classroom and social activities, demonstrating, according to her principal, “the wide ranging impact that someone who cares so much can have on a school.”
Stephanie received her award at a recent Board of Education meeting and in her comments, she highlighted the ever increasing needs of students and how the impact of the economy on families is being seen in the children. She spoke about a school social worker as a “Finder” – a Finder of the good and the strengths in students, in families and in situations; about the LINKS program that helped students to also become Finders of strengths and potential in relationships and who became an inspiration to the staff. Finally, Stephanie thanked the school board members for being Finders of the good in her and in her work. Her school social work colleagues in Forest Hills are grateful that Stephanie’s exemplary work has served to raise awareness of the many social and emotional needs of students in our schools and the value of school social work services.