Minnesota School Social Worker of the Year 2020- Tabitha Wheeler

The Minnesota School Social Workers Association proudly announces the selection of Tabitha Wheeler as the Minnesota School Social Worker of the Year for 2020.  Tabitha has been a school social worker for the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul for 17 years.  She earned her LSW from Winona State University in 2001.  Nominator, Joey Cienian, director of Educational Programming, wrote, “She has done exemplary and heroic work sustaining and being a foundational rock in support of our schools mission which is to find and nurture the genius and creativity of every student despite any life changes or setbacks.  We believe strongly that Tabitha’s dedication to our mission has changed the lives of hundreds of students and families over her many years of service.” 

Tabitha’s co-worker, Stephanie Miska, Assistant Director of Special Education, shared that “Tabitha is truly a student advocate extraordinaire.  She ensures that she educates her students on their rights as individuals, provides them guidance in how to navigate through a system that may continue to oppress and contribute to barriers that frustrate and devalue human dignity and worth of our students.  She maintains the highest level of integrity, with her actions, intentions and advocacy skills.  She will go up against an army if she feels her students are in any way shamed, marginalized or their rights are being violated.”

Tabitha makes strong connections with her staff as well continuing to educate them on how to meet students' needs.  Dan Frey, Director of Student Engagement, writes, “From the moment we met, she changed the way I thought about how education and social work services relate to one another in a school setting.  She instilled in me the idea  that our young people must have their social, emotional and physical needs met at a high level by a caring community before we can begin to build trust and engage in education.”   

Community member and former co worker, Paris Yarbrough, Esq., shares “Tabitha recognizes that many of the youth enrolled at High School for Recording Arts are dealing with communal violence, ostracization due to their sexual orientation or LGBTQI identity, suffering from PTSD and other issues.  However, Tabitha consistently challenges herself to evolve in understanding issues that plague the communities she works with.”  

Working in a district where they have anywhere from 100-150 of the students struggling with homelessness and high mobility, Renee Swanson, Assistant Director of Educational Programming, adds  “Tabitha is deeply connected to community resources for our students and Tabitha has been an advocate of getting resources for our students on-site at HSRA so that our students can access them at school, eliminating the need for students to seek assistance outside of school. Tabitha has also done extensive grant work and collaboration efforts in order to acquire on site, nurses, housing advocates and a full time therapist for our students.”

MSSWA is so excited to acknowledge Tabitha Wheeler and her dedication to the profession. Her knowledge, her support for her colleagues, her commitment to students and advocacy to the families she serves makes her our Minnesota School Social Worker of the year for 2020!  Dan Frey’s words sum it up best. “She has undertaken this professional selflessness without expectation of recognition, but with the sole goal of making our young peoples’ lives better, every moment of every day.”  Congratulations Tabitha!

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