School psychologists - Letter to the editor
(Appeared in the Standard-Times 3/9/2023)
It is that time of year- budget season. The North Kingstown School Committee has been working hard to review and consider the proposed budget presented by the School Department. We are all feeling the stress of inflation, everything seems more expensive and the education of our children is not exempt from this. The proposed budget includes an increase this year and it is clear that the School Committee is being very thoughtful approaching this proposed increase. The increase reflects the addition of several staff positions. Two of those additional supports are school psychologists.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on schools across our nation. Our students in North Kingstown were impacted and are still feeling the effects. A recent RI Kids Count report from 2022 reported that one in five children ages six to seventeen have a mental health issue that is diagnosable, that is 19% of our kids. Kids Count also reported that only 22% of RI high school students said that they received the help that they needed when they were feeling sad or anxious- that is down by 33%. As a parent of an 8th grader, and licensed clinical social work in my professional life, I can attest to the fact that many of our kids are not ok. Anxiety, depression, attentional issues, and overall stress is impacting children of all ages. The pandemic has exacerbated many of these issues but there are also other factors that are contributing that are not going away like social media. Educators are facing many challenges which make it difficult for them to educate and our children’ s mental health is one of those challenges.
School psychologists play a vital role in supporting the social and emotional needs of students. They wear many hats, assisting with IEP and 504 plan eligibility and planning, offering individual and group support to students, liaising with parents, and supporting teachers. Sometimes the only mental health support kids are able to access are those at school. With a shortage of therapists across the state, families are met with long waitlists and kids are left without the support that they need. School psychologists can be a lifeline for kids who are struggling. In a recent school committee budget meeting it was raised that there is currently one school psychologist for the entire high school. That is one school psychologist for approximately 1300 students. This is not adequate and goes against the best practice standard set by the Association for School Psychologists which recommends a ratio of one School Psychologist to every 500 students. Our kids deserve better.
I urge the school committee to prioritize the mental health of our students and expand the school personnel that is necessary to do so, which I would argue is actually more than two additional school psychologists, but it’s a start. School psychologists, social workers, and counselors are not complimentary services, but are vital positions in a school that helps to ensure our students are able to access the high-quality education our schools strive to offer. Without these supports our students suffer. I also urge other parents to join me in supporting this endeavor.
North Kingstown, RI