16:37 PM

A True Silver Lining

Wadena-Deer Creek social worker goes above and beyond

When Monica Watson chose to become a school social worker, she could not have envisioned just how much her knowledge and skills would be put to the test.

However, the pandemic has provided a time of both challenge and opportunity for this Wadena-Deer Creek School professional. Not only did Watson rise to the occasion, but she went above and beyond, so much so, she received the 2022 Educators of Excellence Silver Lining Award.

Watson was nominated by WDC special education teacher Fay Pary as someone who has been a champion in the face of adversity.

Monica is relentless when it comes to providing a safe and positive learning experience for students and staff,” Pary wrote in her nomination letter. “She checks in with staff to see how students are progressing and to ask how she can help support the staff themselves. She freely shares her knowledge and her heart. As the school social worker, Monica is often the silver lining amongst the storm clouds –  showing concern, support, and encouragement for all families, staff, and students.”

Watson recalls her shock when first learning of the Educators of Excellence recognition.

“When I think of educator, I think of a teacher, paraprofessional, principal… not a social worker,” she said. “But I felt a strong sense of appreciation for my field of social work as we are making a difference in the lives of others and it is being seen by the professionals we work with and, hopefully, the families we serve.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Watson said her role as a school social worker drastically shifted and was utilized in a variety of ways, including ensuring students were getting connected – literally and figuratively – and helping remove any barriers families were facing when it came to their students’ education.

“Not only was I concerned about the education of our students, but also their overall well-being,” Watson said, “mentally and physically.”

Watson said this also applied to her fellow educators, noting the importance for everyone to have the support they needed so they could, in return, provide the care and education of the children depending on them.

Connecting families and school staff to necessary resources was a big priority during this difficult and often confusing time, Watson explained.  

“I took this on because I knew that’s where my skills would be best utilized for our students. I have knowledge of area resources and how they may benefit our students. Sometimes our families and staff just needed someone to listen to their concerns and struggles. Sometimes it was pointing them in the direction of programs that could benefit their immediate needs. And sometimes it was just knowing that someone cares about them and their well-being.” 

Even after students returned to the classroom, Watson continued to seek out ways to come alongside staff, students, and families to provide support and be that silver lining that they desperately needed.

“Being an Educator of Excellence means that I have great colleagues who see the importance in my role as a school social worker. It means that schools can utilize social workers in various ways in order to meet the educational, emotional, and social needs of their students. It means that my passion for helping others is making a positive impact, and that pushes me to not give up, even on the difficult days.”

Beyond the Silver Lining Award, the Educators of Excellence program offers a variety of awards recognizing educators, leaders, and staff from schools in the local five-county area.

If you would like to learn more about nominating someone as an Educator of Excellence, visit mn.sourcewell.org/education/awards. Nominations for 2023 are now open.