School Psychologists help students make positive connections

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has designated November 14–18, 2011, as National School Psychology Awareness Week. This year’s theme, “Every link matters. Make the connection” helps our students and schools focus on creating positive connections within the school community, their academics, and their lives. NASP offers a series of resources and activities that school psychologists can use to reach out to school staff, students, and parents to help students feel connected, supported, and ready to achieve their individual goals.

NASP represents more than 26,000 school psychologists who work in schools and other education and health settings. School psychologists work with parents and educators to ensure that every child has the mental health and learning support they need to succeed in school and life. “This year’s theme expresses the importance of the many different kinds of connections that students need to make every day in order to be successful,” says NASP President Philip J. Lazarus. “These connections include interpersonal connections with peers and adults. Students also need to experience the connections between effort and achievement, academic learning and real life, feelings and actions, and behavioral choices and consequences.”

Lazarus points to the importance of healthy connections in supporting the emotional well being of our children, which is so critical to their life-long functioning. Research points to the central role of meaningful relationships in a child’s life. A trustworthy adult in a child’s life can help him or her overcome challenges or major life crises. Having at least one reciprocal friendship is enough to help a child feel accepted at school. Interpersonal connections are essential not only to making school an enjoyable place to be, but also to building a child’s resilience and ability to overcome challenges and adversity. “Students’ emotional well-being can be greatly influenced for the better by the interactions they have with fellow students, teachers, and even school psychologists,” emphasizes Lazarus.  “Sometimes it only takes one reliable adult, a friend to eat lunch with, or an encouraging principal to improve a child’s well-being and ability to focus in school. There are countless true stories of how one adult who cares deeply about a child can make the difference between failure and success.”

School psychologists work with teachers and parents to facilitate the positive connections students make with peers, their school, and their community. They also provide supports and interventions that help students succeed academically, socially and emotionally.

School psychologists help children understand the link between feelings, actions, and outcomes. “Helping children see how their feelings influence their actions—either positively or negatively—is critically important,” Lazarus continues. “Schools can—and should—promote students’ ability to make these connections by explicating and addressing social-emotional learning in the classroom. A recent study has demonstrated that social-emotional learning can boosted academic achievement by 10 to 11 percentage points on standardized tests and reduce conduct problems, aggressive behavior and emotional distress. By incorporating social-emotional curriculums into the classroom we can boost academic learning and improve school climate at the same time.

Twenty-three school psychologists serve Great Prairie Area Education Agency.  While most work under the title of “School Psychologists,” others work as Regional Special Education Directors, Behavior Specialists, and Early Access Service Coordinators.  In addition to their roles in local districts, they also serve on a variety of teams and committees at the agency and state levels.

For more information about School Psychological Services in Great Prairie AEA, contact Thelma O’Neill, Angelisa Fynaardt, Mike Stiemsma, or Bonnie Peevler.  Information about the National Association of School Psychologists, including resources for parents and educators, can be found at www.nasponline.org.

Photo: Great Prairie AEA School Psychologist Jennifer Adams listens to student, Zach, read aloud.

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