MNPS Voices: Amy Dinkel

MNPS Voices: Amy Dinkel, School Social Worker
Posted on 04/19/2023
Portrait of Amy Dinkel

Amy Dinkel keeps the Starfish Story on her desk and close to her heart. Amy Dinkel portrait

The Starfish Story is a well-known parable by Loren Eisley about a young girl walking on a beach covered in washed-up starfish. As she throws them back into the sea, an old man tells her that her efforts are futile because she cannot save them all. The young girl responds by saying that she made a difference to the ones she helped, and that is all that matters.

Highlighting the power of individual actions and the importance of making a positive difference, no matter how small, relates to Dinkel’s everyday role as a school social worker.

Dinkel has been an integral part of Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Hillsboro cluster for nearly 22 years, serving as a dedicated school social worker. Her unwavering passion for helping others began at a young age; she credits her faith and supportive family, particularly her late brother Mark, who passed away when she was 21 and he was only 23. She describes Mark as never meeting a stranger. He was adventurous, fun-loving and marched to a different beat.

Dinkel’s son has also been a major influence and has pushed her to travel around the world. She raised her son as a single mother and is now raising his goldendoodle, Maple, while he is stationed in San Diego as a Navy Corpsman. When asked about him, she’ll smile and quote the common saying every military parent knows: “Most people never meet their heroes; I raised mine.”

Dinkel has spent her whole school social work career in the Hillsboro cluster. She splits her time between Hillsboro High School, Waverly-Belmont Elementary and Julia Green Elementary. She works to address social, emotional and behavioral issues as well as providing resources and referrals to help students and their families access needed support and overcome challenges.

Over the past two decades, Dinkel has witnessed the growing need for mental health services in schools. What began with just a few school social workers within MNPS has now expanded to almost 80 social work professionals, dedicating their efforts to working with the most vulnerable. Fortunately, mental health is now more openly discussed, and Dinkel, who takes great pride in her role, says the district has an excellent framework for mental health services.

She was recently recognized as the 2022 Tennessee School Social Worker of the Year, reflecting her dedication and expertise in her field. Amy Cate Crutchfield, assistant principal at John Overton High School, wrote her letter of support and continues to champion Dinkel.

“When I think back over my 20 years of service in this district, I can say confidently that Amy has had a more positive impact on students than any other professional I have ever worked with,” Crutchfield said. “I have had many roles, and in all those roles she supported educators, students and families with humility, love and the utmost professionalism.”

Despite her awards and achievements, Dinkel’s focus remains on the individuals and families she helps. During a recent home visit, she motivated an older sibling of her student, the student’s mother, and a neighbor who was also a former student to enroll at Bass Adult High School, where they can work toward earning a diploma.

“I always tell my students: once my student, always my student,” Dinkel said.

Things like this happen every day with MNPS social workers. Many former students remain in touch with Dinkel after they graduate. One of her students, against the odds, graduated last year and is now attending college and studying social work.

Responding to the Covenant School Tragedy

Dinkel was one of the many MNPS social workers and mental health professionals who provided crisis response to the Covenant School mass shooting. Five nearby MNPS schools – Hillsboro High, J.T. Moore Middle, Percy Priest Elementary, Glendale Elementary and Julia Green Elementary – had a team of school counselors, trauma-informed specialists, school psychologists and social workers who were present to support students, staff and family and continue to offer aid in many ways.

“It was very surreal having been just miles from Covenant. A truly helpless feeling,” Dinkel said. “I have endured tragic student deaths during my tenure at MNPS as a social worker, but I could never have imagined this horrific day.”

The Covenant tragedy is an event we hope never to experience again, an event we hope no one has to experience again. While working through this tragedy, though, Dinkel has found a hero in the Nashville community – from the victims to the first responders to our bus drivers and to our grieving students.

“It’s a beautiful village we have here,” said Dinkel.

Dinkel’s impact on her students and their families over the past 22 years has been significant and impactful for countless families. Her passion for people and ensuring they have the resources they need does not go unnoticed. And, like the girl in The Starfish Story, she has made and continues to make a positive difference to many people.

A piece of advice she gives us all is to remain present: “Be present in every moment, even the really, really hard ones, because it makes the good ones even sweeter.”

You Matter

Families always can reach out to their school for any information they may need. But, Metro Schools also keeps an online Community Resource Guide and support information for students on a page called You Matter. 


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