By Leslie Rivera, Communications Officer
School psychologists are among the army of educational professionals dedicated to ensuring a child’s complete well-being at Atlanta Public Schools, but you probably aren’t fully aware of their role in a student’s life.
APS is recognizing the incredible work being done by its 22 school psychologists during National School Psychology Awareness Week, November 10 – 14, 2014.
Each of the district’s psychologists serves between three and four schools, acting as clinicians, to provide student assessments and consult parents on everything from academic to social, emotional and behavioral concerns.
“School psychology is such a hybrid of so many different disciplines: clinical, educational, counseling. There is training across multiple disciplines because public schools are forced to deal with all problems that society is facing. There isn’t a single thing that isn’t happening in the community that schools don’t also have to deal with,” explains psychologist David Hosking who has been with APS five years.
Patricia F. Earley, an APS school psychologist for 23 years, says psychologists do more than identify potential problems, “It’s not just about a student becoming a straight-A student or even a straight-B student, it’s about a student reaching their fullest potential.”
Psychologist Vivian Nichols emphasizes the wholeness of a child, “It’s about resiliency, it’s about total well-being, it’s about making sure that students are not just successful academically but socially; they’re learning life skills, they know how to navigate in school and their communities. They are healthy, happy, whole.”
The National Association of School Psychologists’ theme this year is, “Strive. Grow. THRIVE!” APS Psychological Services Coordinator Dr. Darnell T. Logan emphasizes what that message means at APS, “Psychologists recognize that children must always come first and that our focus is to assist school personnel with making decisions that are always in the best interest of the children that we serve.”
David Hosking earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology but didn’t consider working in schools until he spent some time in a clinical hospital setting. The experience in acute, long-term care prompted him to think about how he could make a difference earlier in a person’s life.
“I feel most proud when we see evidence that something works, something clicks, a light bulb goes on, and you realize you’ve changed someone’s life,” Hosking said.
Learning-based problems and classroom-based behaviors are the areas of top concerns to parents in his cluster. His work, however, goes beyond the school building. For an upcoming parent workshop, Hosking will discuss how parents can help their students with study skills, managing peer pressure and managing high school life.
Hosking describes psychologists as problem solvers though he knows he doesn’t have all the answers. His approach to helping students is to support their parents and teachers, guide them on how to access help, in any form available, and by being a good listener. Hosking says that allows him “to hear and understand the root of a problem.”
Patricia Earley, Ph.D enjoys speaking to parents just as much as she does students. She grew up fascinated with studying the mind but her admiration for her mother, a former APS teacher, also drew her to consider teaching. Earley pursued her degree in psychology and discovered school psychology was the perfect combination.
“I do think so much of what happens in a school can make a lasting impression and can definitely enhance a student and a student’s family far beyond the school day,” Earley said.
The rewards for Earley are many. She enjoys one-on-one time with students, seeing them make strides academically and/or behaviorally as well as being able to consult with her colleagues. She adds, “we can always learn more and share ideas and concepts. So that’s been extremely rewarding as well.”
Earley welcomes the chance to share not only with colleagues but students. She and fellow APS psychologist Vanessa Mims plan to speak to psychology majors at Spellman College about pursuing school psychology as a career.
Vivian Nichols’ three older sisters all teach, as did her mother for a short time. But it was actually a family friend who urged her to consider school psychology. For Nichols, it’s more than a job; “I don’t really look at this as a career. For me it’s a calling.”
Nichols’ best moments involve smiling, thankful parents, “you are able to tell a parent why their child is struggling academically or behaviorally and you see that light bulb moment. Because once that child is identified, then comes the help and resources and gains made. It’s that part that is very rewarding.”
Because each school population is different, Nichols says it’s important psychologists take an “ecological” approach to understanding students, “We’re looking at the various systems that influence that child. So that’s family, that’s community, even inside of the school, its school culture, its school expectations and administration. When we do assessments we’re looking at all those factors, all of those various systems in school, out of school and community that impact that child.”
This is Nichols’ third year at APS and she is hoping to do more parent education and workshops as well as develop strong partnerships with the community and key school personnel.
APS would like to thank its psychologists for the critical role they play in promoting school and life success for its students.
Visit the National Association of School Psychologists for more information.