GUVERCIN: School psychologists are vital for education


Opinion Column: The Bigger Picture

The pivotal role of mental health professionals is becoming more and more evident within our current social environment and is being recognized as not a suggested, but mandatory element within any operation involving people. Schools in particular have demonstrated a need for mental health professionals, as they are the primary environment within a child’s social, academic and internal life. 

There are a variety of issues regarding the behavior and performance of students that warrant professional guidance and intervention that teachers, administrators and even parents cannot fulfill in the most effective way. That is why school psychologists have become a necessity within school systems and institutions and continue to impact the course of a child’s academic and personal life. 

“School psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students, consult with teachers, families and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e., school counselors, school social workers) to improve support strategies, work with school administrators to improve school-wide practices and policies and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services,” according to the National Association of School Psychologists. They are highly involved in academic and psychological assessments, student conduct management, classroom and staff protocols in dealing with the emotional needs of students, prevention of bullying, family relationships with the school and collection and analysis of student data. 

Perhaps one of the most important duties that school psychologists carry out is the systematic academic and psychological assessment of students, through which they collaborate with teachers and families and determine the best possible intervention they can provide for the child collectively. For students who have demonstrated need and are enrolled into special education, school psychologists develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) through which students are able to access a variety of resources that are catered to their individual academic, physical or emotional needs.

There are approximately 51 countries in the world that have school psychologists, and 81 that have at least trained professionals who carry out activities similar to that of school psychologists, according to a 2007 study. But, according to the same study, there are roughly 13 countries that have a school psychologist to school-age student ratio of 1 to 2,000. The ratio is higher in countries like Germany, whose ratio is 1 to 9,482, and even 1 to 4,368,289 in Tanzania, which has the highest ratio. 

These statistics demonstrate that there is a fundamental issue within global education systems that must be addressed so as to increase the number of school psychologists, who are advocates for students in schools. There are some alarming questions that are raised regarding the welfare of students who require special education or guidance in school, and how their experiences are affected as a result of a lack of school psychologists and mental health advisors. Furthermore, a lack of an institutionalized school psychology program can imply that certain needs or circumstances of children can go unnoticed or ignored, and incorrect intervention methods can influence their academic futures.

Over the last few decades, the role of school psychologists have become more recognized. Within the last few weeks, the West Virginia House of Delegates are working to pass House Bill 2397, which requires that each county school board employs at least one full-time school psychologist for every 1,000 kindergarten through seventh-grade students. This is in response to the growing drug crisis in West Virginia and its subsequent effect on students and their families.

“Children are the most vulnerable and unseen victims of the drug crisis. These children are not only more susceptible to substance use disorders, but they have also experienced trauma and turmoil that negatively impact their development and the ability to effectively learn. This leaves schools at the forefront of providing the protective factors children and families need," said Karen Cummings, the chair for the West Virginia School Psychologists Association.

Without school psychologists, students would not have advocates and mental health professionals whose primary obligation is to them. We collectively tend to undermine the familial, social and emotional life of our children in the context of their academic performance, and do not put enough pressure on schools to take active roles in these realms. Due to the fact that children spend the majority of their time in schools, establish their primary social relationships in classrooms and are held academically accountable even in the face of compromising personal circumstances, school psychologists are pivotal to their well-being, assessment and development. 

As a global society, we should spread awareness about the importance of school psychologists and do our best to advocate for our children through an outlet that has incredible value and not enough recognition.

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double  majoring in philosophy and psychology. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Fridays.

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