Atlanta Public Schools is proud to announce that Dr. Terriyln Rivers-Cannon has been named the 2019 National School Social Worker of the Year by the School Social Workers Association of America (SSWAA) for her outstanding contributions to the profession of school social work.
Dr. Rivers-Cannon was recently recognized at a special awards ceremony and luncheon in Orlando, Fla.
Her recognition as National School Social Worker of the Year not only makes her the first school social worker from Georgia, but also the first African-American and the first African-American female to receive the award from SSWAA.
“I was filled with emotion, because I reflected on how I actually got started in social work,” said Dr. Rivers-Cannon, who began her social work career more than 18 years ago. “And the reason I got started in social work was because of my Auntie Katie who was a college social work professor. She’s the one to whom I attribute my pursuit. I immediately had a flash of her in my head – along with thanking the individuals who recommended me for the award.
“Thanks to my aunt, I developed a love for social work,” she continued. “The more she talked about it, the more I wanted to learn about it – especially when it came to advocating for individuals and having a voice for individuals who couldn’t have a voice for themselves, and that’s what drew me more and more into social work.”
An APS school social worker since 2009, Dr. Rivers-Cannon is clearly committed and passionate about her work and the role she serves in students’ lives.
“Social work is so vitally important to me because with our job as social workers, we are the gateway to opening up those doors and providing an understanding to what’s going on with students,” said Dr. Rivers-Cannon, who serves students at Booker T. Washington High School and Fickett Elementary School. “That’s why I love doing what I do each and every day with the children here. It’s that network, it’s that bonding, it’s connecting those links together.”
With an extensive background in school and medical social work and juvenile justice, Dr. Rivers-Cannon often draws upon her breadth of professional experience as well as the lessons she learned as a teen mom. She says both experiences helped make her a better person and a better professional.
She is currently completing her two-year role as president of the School Social Workers Association of Georgia, having served as the first APS social worker in that capacity. She also serves as an endowment fund board member with the School Social Workers Association of America.
“There’s a saying that says, ‘you turn your cant’s into can’s,’ because when individuals look at you, all they see is what’s on the outside; they have no idea of what’s on the inside,” she said. “For me, it was sheer determination. Every time someone looked at me and said what I couldn’t do, I would always turn it into what I could do. That determination and resilience was empowering. I kept that inside of me. I used being a teen mom to redirect my plans.”
Dr. Rivers-Cannon is now using that same determination to help better the lives of the students she serves each day. Whether it’s attendance, assignments, graduation or other issues, she sees her role as helping students become college and career ready while also helping improve the quality of their everyday lives.
“When our children don’t feel that they’re at a point where they can settle themselves down and think clearly, then they can’t move about their day,” she said. “Mental health is a key element of that, and school social workers are definitely at the forefront of mental health, trauma and crisis. We provide those services. Transportation, homelessness, child abuse – all of those things roll into mental health and affect your mental health.
“And as social workers, we try to come in and peel back those layers, to identify what’s going on with our children and seek out those resources and connect the dots and link together the pieces that need to be linked together.”