One of the goals of UW-Whitewater’s school psychology graduate program is to prepare future professionals to be advocates for and providers of mental health services in Wisconsin’s elementary and secondary schools. The program’s alumni are striving toward this goal each and every day all around the State of Wisconsin. Since the beginning of 2017, four recent alumnae have been highlighted in the local news for their work as fierce advocates for the mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being of the students whom they serve. Jamie Harris, a school psychologist in the Edgerton School District and recent recipient of the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association’s School Psychologist of the Year Award, recognized a need to increase students’ social and emotional skills in order to be successful at school and beyond. In doing so, she partnered with other school personnel at Edgerton Middle School to bring the Second Step curriculum to all students. For middle schoolers, this program focuses on providing students with the communication, coping, and problem-solving skills necessary to navigate the struggles of adolescence.
About an hour north, Allison Samb, a school psychologist at Westside Elementary School in the Sun Prairie Area School District, and the school’s social worker received grant funding from the Sun Prairie Education Foundation to screen all third and fourth grade students for symptoms of traumatic stress. Once identified, students who have experienced traumatic stress will participate in Bounce Back, an evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy group aimed at decreasing the physical and emotional symptoms of traumatic stress, as well as increasing coping skills and relaxation techniques to address that stress. Samb estimates that the grant will provide necessary mental, social, and emotional support to 50 students coping with traumatic stress over the next year.
Meanwhile, 2016 School Psychologist of the Year, Jessica Skaaland of the Oshkosh Area School District, continues to bring light to the extensive need for mental health services in schools but lack of resources within her district to sufficiently address those needs. To put it in perspective, the National Association of School Psychologists suggests that there be one school psychologist to every 500 to 700 students, while Skaaland reported serving about 1,400 students. Because of this, she reported having a limited capacity to build relationships with her students, provide counseling, partner with parents to discuss treatment options, and provide additional and necessary supports for classroom teachers. Despite this, Skaaland continues to be a vocal advocate for increasing the number of specialists prepared to support students in crises with significant mental health concerns by raising awareness through interviews with local news outlets, including the Sheboygan Press.
Similarly, at the stateline, Kaela Harteau, a school psychologist serving the School District of Beloit, champions more services and qualified staff to support the emotional and behavioral needs of students in Beloit. As frustrations amongst teachers and staff came to a head at a February town hall meeting regarding students’ increasing misbehavior and a lack of support for disciplining students, Harteau remained an advocate for addressing misbehavior using the district’s restorative justice practices along with enforcing their code of conduct, while also building capacity for providing the emotional and mental health supports that their students need. Since that February meetings, Harteau said that “moving forward, our district and school board are currently discussing increases in mental health providers and student services in our district. But they are also talking about trying to decrease class sizes by adding more teachers.”
As for UW-Whitewater’s school psychology program, the faculty will continue to train their graduate students to be leaders in the fight to bring more mental health services to public schools in Wisconsin with confidence that current and future graduates alike will continue to work to provide students with the supports necessary for their success in school and beyond.
Dr. Scherr presented at the 5th International Conference in School Psychology in DaNang, Vietnam. UW-Whitewater was recognized with a plaque as one of the institutional members of the Consortium to Advance School Psychology-International (CASP-I). Scherr delivered opening remarks at the conference, gave a workshop on working with young children who have experienced trauma, and won an award for her presentation on supervising novice practitioners who deliver mental health services in schools. According to Scherr, psychology is an emerging profession in Vietnam