Preparing students for college, leadership, and life calls for educational experiences that strengthens the academic and socioemotional development of every student. Too often external factors beyond the classroom impede on student achievement and success. Unaddressed trauma, exposure to high stress environments, and mental health challenges can disrupt students’ learning and lead to increased behavioral issues and school dropout rates. At Green Dot, we share an unwavering belief in the potential of all students. To help unlock it, we seek to eliminate all barriers to learning.
Unfortunately, countless students in public schools across the country lack access to the socioemotional and psychological supports that they need. In a 2017 report, the National Association of School Psychologists found that the national ratio of students per school psychologist was estimated to be 1,381 to 1 during the 2014–2015 school year.
School psychologists are fundamental to the success and well-being of our students. They work with school leaders and educators to identify trauma in our students to develop long-term coping strategies, they also provide crisis and behavioral interventions and through their partnership with community agencies connect families with additional resources.
Across our 19 California schools, we have 23 school psychologists that serve our students. On average we have 1 school psychologist for every 600 high school students; and 1 per 450 middle school students. In contrast, Los Angeles County's average ratio was 1 school psychologist per 959 students in 2019.
We know that for many students in underserved communities, trauma informed pedagogy alone is inadequate if not combined with the support of mental health professionals. In Memphis, our school psychologists and counselors work closely with mental health partners such as Youth Villages, to provide students and families with additional mental health services and support.
This year, due to the pandemic, our transition team extended themselves to help ensure student wellbeing. Recent graduates will continue to receive mental health resources, academic support, and job-based guidance until December 2020 even though they are no longer students at our schools. And, last summer hours were extended to help our recently-graduated seniors transition to life after high school. “Our transition support staff are mentoring and supporting them until they get to a place where they feel comfortable transitioning into college, including helping students find work after high school,” Campo-Contreras said.
It’s All About the Students
At the center of this work are school psychologists, but how do they collaborate with parents, teachers, and students? Dominique Bell, a special education teacher at Ánimo City of Champions Charter High School, recognizes that accelerating student growth and supporting their mental health requires close collaboration and teamwork.
“The school psychologist and I set goals, determine what their social emotional status is and how it impacts learning. We make sure that we have that healthy balance of academic and personal expectations for each student so that they can be successful,” Bell said.
Our school psychologists and educators utilize a Multi-Tiered Support System (MTSS) framework that equips educators with the tools, resources and supports to foster the academic, behavioral and socioemotional development of their students. In our learning environments, we help students learn how to manage emotions, build positive relationships, and tackle obstacles.
In Bell’s case, she works with her school psychologist to manage Individualized Education Programs and implement effective learning solutions for students with behavior intervention plans. We built our close-knit school communities around broadly supportive resources, which are available to all of our students. Our school psychologists are essential members of our school communities, and are constantly innovating and discovering new ways to support students. “Our School Psychologist is someone that you can trust, someone that you can talk to.” Bell said.
Communication is Key
School psychologists also work with school student success teams to develop an individualized strategy for our students. “Our psychologists know how to support students who are having difficulty accessing curriculum,” said Susana Campo-Contreras, Director of Special Education and Psychological Services at Green Dot.
When schools across the country made the transition to online learning due to COVID-19, the way that our school psychologists interacted with our students changed overnight. Our school psychologists are in constant communication with families through video conferencing, phone calls, and emails.Together they track student progress, explore coping strategies, and maintain alignment to ensure that students are on a continued path of success. “We know that our psychologist can minimize the impact and trauma that our students experience by finding consistent support and collaborating with our counselors,” Campo-Contreras said.
For Tu Anh Phan, a school psychologist at Locke College Preparatory Academy, innovating the way she communicates has been vital to student success.
“Parents are grateful whenever I reach out because they often have to support more than one child in their homes,” Anh said. At Locke, Anh now helps parents understand their student’s school schedules, and assists students with navigating online learning environments.
Sarah Ferrentino, a school psychologist at Ánimo Florence-Firestone Charter Middle School, said that she has strengthened bridges between families and schools during distance learning. “The essence of our work is through personal interactions, collaboration, and consultation which has clearly been a challenge during distance learning,” Ferrentino said.
Ferrentino has used her resources to help connect families with additional supports amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “The school counselor and I have worked with families to connect students to outside therapy due to concerns with depression and anxiety that have been exacerbated during quarantine. We have a positive relationship with a school-based provider and they are offering services [for free] via teletherapy during this time,” she said.
Creating Mentorship Opportunities
This year, our school psychologists will pilot a Green Dot Mentorship program, which is designed to build long-lasting leadership skills in freshman students by linking them with senior student mentors. At Locke, Phan and Beauchamp are among the leaders of the school’s program. “We really wanted to give students an opportunity to build leadership skills as role models in our school community,” Phan said.
Beauchamp said there are over 20 seniors who are participating in the program. During the school year, Locke’s school psychologists will also teach a series of seminars, including “Discovering Your Leadership Style”, “Improving Your Self Care Routine”, and “Communication Skills 101”.
COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented shift in our education system, but our commitment to serving all students has never been stronger. At Green Dot, All Means All, and we will continue to find new ways to provide every student with the education, resources and support they need to be successful.