In celebration of School Psychology Awareness Week, we sat down with school psychologist Leslie Baunach to discuss the role of school psychologists and how they help to enhance the educational experience for students and parents.
Q: What is the role of a school psychologist?
A: School psychologists are members of student teams that often are comprised of support staff, which may include psychological examiners, clinical psychologists, behavioral health specialists, school counselors, district social workers, autism consultant teachers, student support resource teachers and/or student service coordinators. School psychologists are responsible for conducting special education evaluations, behavior consultation, attending peer reviews, helping schools implement Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), providing home-school-community connections, and establish partnerships that will create a supportive learning environment for students.
Q: How is that different from the role of a counselor?
A: In Hawaii, school psychologists are district level rather than school level. They conduct special education evaluations and the training for that includes data collection and analysis, statistics, and adaptive, cognitive, academic, and social/emotional/behavior assessment, as well as special education law and ethics. In addition, school psychologists receive training in prevention, which can include behavior and academic interventions, crisis prevention, resilience and risk factors, consultation and collaboration. A school counselor program is around 45 graduate credit while a school psychologist program is a minimum of 60 graduate credits (and usually more).
Q: In addition to helping students, how do school psychologists support staff and parents?
A: School psychologists are aware of district and community level resources and can help staff and parents access them. They are highly skilled and understand both long-term, chronic problems and short-term issues that students may face that will impact learning, behavior, well-being and school engagement.
Q: How do you become a school psychologist?
A: It is a rigorous process to become a school psychologist with many of them completing either a specialist-level degree program or a doctoral degree. These programs typically include a yearlong, 1,200-hour supervised internship. School psychologists receive specialized advanced graduate preparation that includes coursework and practical experiences relevant to both psychology and education.
Q: What tips do you have for parents on ways they can support their children academically and emotionally?
A: Parent involvement is the most important factor in a child's education; they are the constant connection when it comes to learning at home and at school.
If parents have any concerns regarding their child's learning or have identified disabilities, the first step is to contact the child's teacher(s) to make sure the appropriate supports are provided. Many times, a parent conference is set up and parents should use that time to ask about services available at the school and within the community to help with their child's specific needs.
Schools will involve parents in creating a plan and implementing interventions. Parents should ask questions like – what is the goal of the intervention, the length of time it will be implemented and how progress will be measured. Constant and consistent communication between parents and their child's school is key for student success.