When you and your fellow school psychologists are allowed to return to the field, as lockdown restrictions across the country ease, and schools plan their initiative to hold in-person classes, you will begin to notice as students interact with each other more, how previous social isolation continues to affect them. This is the main side effect of nearly a year-long virtual learning experience. “A lot of the students that I work with struggle to come to school, so it was kind of like giving them what they always wanted. But it kind of backfired and there was a lot of negative impact from having to stay home in the shutdown”, says Julia Rutkowski, school psychologist at Muskego High School in Racine, Wisconsin1.
Even with your constant efforts of trying to connect with your students and understand their struggle to maintain positive mental health, you will find that depending on the month, a positive state of mind may be hard to come by. The winter months, as school psychologists have discovered, tend to be the time of the year students struggle the most with their depression. “During the summertime, I would always advise kids to go outside, go for a walk, go walk your dog, go for a run. I always tell kids to move. I am trying to get them to have something that they can look forward to. But there are definitely not a lot of suggestions that we can offer during the winter” says Rutkowski1.
The most telling piece of evidence showing just how damaging the effects of the pandemic were for children’s growth, is the lack of interactive development, and a downsize in verbal communication. However, there is a general consensus that this really depends on the student, if they already have an anxious personality, and or are depressed prior to the pandemic, the transition to in-person classes would already be an uphill battle.
Biden administration to increase ratio of school psychologists
Because of the overwhelmingly high number of depressed/mentally unstable students during the pandemic, the Biden administration has made it their initiative to double the ratio of school psychologists, for grades K-12 across the nation.
This new call to action, comes after a report printed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, states that “one in five children live with mental disorders, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, OCD, substance abuse disorders, Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD”. That percentage has made the demand for school psychologists skyrocket, and tending to the mental state of the country’s children was made a top priority among U.S. leaders.
The Biden administration stated through their campaign website that schools were vastly understaffed with psychologists saying “the current school psychologist to student ratio in this country is roughly 1,400 to 1, while experts say it should be at most 700 to 1, That’s a gap of about 35,000 to 60,000 school psychologists2.”
You may have noticed during your time treating students, that in many school districts across the country, there may be as little as one school psychologist assigned to as many as three school districts. As a reference to how understaffed and over worked school psychologists are, school district leaders claim in an ideal situation, each psychologist would only be assigned to one school. This would greatly improve your practices because, then you can forge relationships with the teachers and students on a more intimate level, view the day-to-day interaction between each individual student, and study the student’s environment and discover if there are any social cues that are causing their anxiety.
Still across the nation, school psychologists appreciate the level of importance and appreciation the Biden administration has emphasized on their job description. “Mental health, behavioral and intellectual concerns are all attended to by school psychologists, and these are important issues that make a significant impact on students beginning at an early age, says BYU student Tessa Hatch, who is currently completing her teaching requirement degree, and plans on continuing her education in the psychology department. “All students and all children deserve access to the assistance and understanding that a school psychologist can provide2.”
“School psychologists are problem solvers.” said Ellie Young, a BYU Counseling Psychology and Special Education professor. “When children experience difficulties with peers, have academic challenges, or are experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety, we can work directly with students, teachers, or families to help the youth learn and practice new skills”.
Psychologists stress that they want to help kids achieve success, and maintain positive mental health, but that that goes far beyond the grades children are receiving in the classroom, as you have discovered, it also pertains to the students being socially capable/intelligent, and their interaction with their surroundings in a constructive and appropriate manner.
Hatch would go on to say that she hopes the Biden administration will be able to advocate for the needs of students to help them succeed no matter what. “I think that the idea of seeking to double the amount of school psychologists in the U.S. is absolutely wonderful. Increasing the number of school psychologists across the country will undoubtedly benefit our school communities and our students throughout the nation.”
As a school psychologist your profession has never been more needed, than it is now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities rely on your profession as a dependable source of childhood development, for a multitude of reasons. These reasons include but are not limited to helping create a safe school and positive environment conducive to learning, your role in strengthening family and school partnerships and community outreach, and your support for school accountability efforts through assessments.
- Nikki Medanovic, After nearly a year of virtual learning, school psychologists worry about the mental health effects; February 2021; WMTV
- Molly, Ogden, Welch; Biden administration to increase ratio of school psychologists, January 2021; The Daily Universe