Times have changed. While academic matters are still the main focus of schools, social, economic and political factors have altered the school environment. In this setting, school psychologists have emerged as advocates for children, providing compassion and guidance to ensure that students’ emotional issues are addressed appropriately. School psychologists play various roles in the school system, including that of crisis counselors, testing facilitators and community outreach coordinators, among other roles.
1. School psychologists have extensive training in child development.
The school psychologist may work as part of a team that includes the teachers, guidance counselor and social worker. The expertise of the school psychologist is especially helpful in addressing the needs of children with chronic conditions and making sure that they thrive in the classroom setting.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that 9.5 percent of children between 3 and 17 years have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and the schools play a big part in ensuring that these children receive the treatments and therapies to make sure that they can cope with the learning process. School psychologists play a crucial role in providing expert observations, testing and developing Individualized Education Plans that address the needs of children with ADHD and other conditions.
2. School psychologists are trained for crisis-intervention situations.
It is unfortunate that crime and violence have extended to the schools. The fragile psyche of developing minds is greatly affected by witnessing or even just hearing of these incidents. The school psychologist is always part of the school crisis team that is ready to provide counseling and emotional support to children touched by tragedies, including death of fellow students, teachers and other catastrophic events that may affect students directly or indirectly.
3. School psychologists help create safe schools and positive environments conducive to learning.
Youth violence includes different behaviors that can harm someone physically and emotionally. School violence may happen on campus or offsite at school-sponsored events. Bullying, verbal threats, physical altercation on any level and assault with weapons have, unfortunately, become part of the environment in some schools. A 2012 CDC report indicated that 749,200 nonfatal incidents of student-on-student victimizations occurred in middle schools and high schools. A separate report mentioned that at least 7 percent skipped school in the last 30 days prior to the survey because they feared for their safety.
School districts have turned to psychologists to assess the prevailing climate in schools and recommend strategies to identify at-risk students, areas of school vulnerability and prevention programs. School psychologists are tasked with creating intervention services that promote redemptive discipline, restorative justice and school-wide preventive efforts. These programs have to consider various factors, including social and cultural sensitivities, religious differences and socio-economic realities.
4. The school psychologist plays a role in strengthening family and school partnerships and community outreach.
In the past, the school psychologist was relegated to the task of helping schools and families navigate the special education process for children with developmental issues and other specialized concerns. While this remains a primary concern, psychologists in the school setting are expected to be available to help families understand their children’s emotional and mental health needs and to connect them with service providers as needed.
The school psychologist is expected to serve as liaison between families and the school and between the school and the community. The psychologist is a diplomat of sorts, trained to bring together people of various cultures and backgrounds to promote a learning environment that is safe and inclusive. Psychologists have the additional task of helping students transitioning between school and other learning environments, such as juvenile justice programs or residential treatment settings.
5. School psychologists support school accountability efforts through assessments.
Testing is a hot-button issue in today’s schools. School psychologists are expected to help generate useful data through assessments that would help identify critical areas for academic improvement. Test results are also useful in monitoring students’ year-over-year progress and determining risk factors that may have an impact on learning outcomes.
Budget restrictions and changing priorities have highlighted the important roles that the school psychologist plays in the educational system. With socio-economic and political factors weighing on the system, the school psychologist will continue to play a crucial part in ensuring that schools are responsive to a changing world.