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2012 Convention News

President's Special Strands

By Philip J. Lazarus

Each year, the NASP president is given the privilege of developing strands that help carry the convention theme throughout the week. As you know, the 2012 convention theme is “Advocating for the Emotional Well-Being of Our Nation's Youth.” I selected this theme because I firmly believe that we as a society are not doing a good enough job of attending to the emotional needs of our young people. Many of our students are suffering. Particularly in today's economic recession, our nation's youth need more emotional support than ever before.

In the United States, about 17% of children suffer from mental illness (Roberts, Attkisson, & Rosenblatt, 1998) and approximately 5% to 9% meet eligibility criteria for serious emotional disturbance (New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003). Many of these children with emotional and mental health problems will experience serious life impairments. According to the Report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health (2001), one in ten U.S.-born children suffers from a mental disorder severe enough to limit daily functioning in family, community, and school settings. Consequently, efforts are needed to support the emotional well-being and the mental health needs of students to help them succeed in school and in life.

Educators have been focusing on school reform efforts and attention has been on increasing the academic competence of children and preparing them for high-level jobs in the 21st century. That is as it should be. However, there are some (e.g., school counselors, social workers, school psychologists) who work in the schools who also focus on the emotional well-being of children. And if school psychologists do not bring attention to children's mental health needs, then who else will?

As school psychologists, we know that educators cannot ignore the critical link between emotional competency and academic achievement. Research has shown that when children have the requisite social–emotional skills and supports and are connected to school, they not only do better socially and emotionally, but also improve academically and remain in school.

In response to this need, I have identified two President's Strands to provide a range of opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills across an array of issues that shape students' social–emotional well-being.

Universal prevention

The first President's Strand, “Universal Prevention Approaches to Support the Emotional Needs of Our Nation's Youth,” focuses on a wide variety of universal prevention programs that help ensure that schools are safe, supportive, and nurturing places to learn. Included are paper presentations, symposia, and special sessions that describe evidence-based approaches that deal with violence prevention, bullying prevention, suicide prevention, school-wide behavior supports, and helping some of our most vulnerable students, such as homeless and foster children and students from military families.

Two interconnected empirical research bases underscore the need to foster the emotional well-being of children through universal prevention approaches. Research in social–emotional learning (SEL) that links students' academic achievement, mental health and emotional well-being has expanded over the past decade (Durlak et al., 2011). The promotion of social–emotional competencies is related to greater well-being in students as well as improvement in core academic subjects. Students who fail to achieve competence in SEL have greater impairment in social, academic, and family functioning (Greenburg et al., 2003; Guerra & Bradshaw, 2008; Masten & Coatsworth, 1998; Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1997; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). Moreover, research suggests that SEL programs reduce depression (Horowitz & Garber, 2007), substance abuse (Tobler et al., 2000), disruptive behavior in schools (Wilson, Gottfredson, & Najaka, 2001), and antisocial and aggressive behavior (Lösel & Beelman, 2003; Wilson & Lipsey, 2007).

As a prime illustration of the widespread benefits of SEL programs, a recent meta-analysis was conducted by Durlak et al. (2011) that involved 270,034 K–12 students and included 213 school-based SEL programs. Results of this investigation suggest that SEL programs are effective across different types of communities (e.g., urban, suburban, rural) and at all educational levels (e.g., elementary, middle, high school). Compared to controls, students participating in SEL programs displayed an 11-percentile-point gain in academic achievement as well as improvements in social–emotional skills, attitudes about school, and school behavior. Additionally, SEL programs helped buffer against student and school problems such as internalizing psychopathology and conduct problems.

The second line of research relates to school connectedness. It is critical that we support universal programs that help children feel connected to their schools, peers, and communities. For example, the importance of school connectedness to social–emotional outcomes has been well documented by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health involving more than 36,000 middle and high school students. This study investigated the impact of a wide range of protective factors on youth outcomes and found school connectedness was the strongest protective factor, for both girls and boys, for decreasing drug and alcohol usage, truancy, early sexual behaviors, violence, and risky behavior (Resnick, Bearman, Blum, et al., 1997). School connectedness has also been found to buffer students at risk from emotional distress (Wilkinson- Lee, Zhang, Nuno, & Wilhelm, 2011) and reduce the likelihood of developing conduct problems (Loukas, Roalson, & Herrera, 2010).

In fact, by the time students reach high school, as many as 40%–60% of students are chronically disengaged (Byrk & Schneider, 2002; Furrer & Skinner, 2003; Kelm & Connell, 2004) and approximately 8% are so disengaged they drop out of school (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). “Many educators characterize disengagement from schools as one of the most immediate and persistent problems exhibited by students” (Wang & Holcome, 2010, p. 634). These statistics may indicate that as many as half of high school students may feel that they are not cared about at school (Blum, 2005). Although school connectedness is often overlooked as schools face significant pressures regarding academic performance, it is crucial for students to feel emotionally engaged and connected to their schools to succeed. Consequently, we need to design and implement policies and programs that connect students to their peers, schools, and communities in meaningful ways.

Featured sessions in this strand include the following.

Social–Emotional Learning: Preparing Students for Tests of Life, Not a Life of Tests

Maurice J. Elias, PhD, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ

To guide schools toward effective prevention and intervention around prob lem behaviors and academic success for all, school psychologists must focus on creating school climates that are safe, challenging, caring, supportive, and respectful. Addressing bullying allows school psychologists to place students' social–emotional and character development at the center of schools' concerns.

Creating Safe Schools 101

Kevin Jennings, Be the Change, Boston, MA

Students can't learn if they don't feel safe—period. In this presentation, Kevin Jennings will address how to create safe school climates that promote academic achievement and personal growth for all of our students. He will bring to this discussion the lens of leadership on bullying prevention at the national level during his tenure as Assistant Secretary of Education and Director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.

NASP Legends in School Psychology Address: School Psychologists' Role in Effective Education for All

Kevin P. Dwyer, NCSP, Retired, Bethesda, MD

This session will address the efforts school psychologists and NASP have made over the past half century in equalizing effective education for all children, particularly those from neglected ethnic and economic groups, and the long necessary journey ahead to reach equality.

Safeguarding Our Youth: Promoting Emotional Well-Being and Resilience Through Crisis Intervention

Scott Poland, PhD, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Many of our youth have experienced tragedy and loss, and NASP has provided nationwide leadership in crisis prevention and response. This presentation will outline key prevention and intervention procedures to promote emotional well-being and resilience.

Large Urban Districts

The second President's Strand, “Providing School Psychological Services in Large Urban School Districts: What Works,” highlights approaches and programs that work in providing school psychological services in large urban school districts. These districts likely have a high percentage of children living in poverty with immigrant and culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse students. This environment offers unique challenges to today's practitioner to provide meaningful, comprehensive, and integrative school psychological services.

Currently, we are witnessing the emotional toll that the recession has placed on students and their families. This emotional impact has had the greatest effect on children and youth living in poverty, who often reside in large urban school districts. As noted by Marian Wright Edelman, “Children have only one childhood and it is right now” (2010, p. v). Millions of our children, especially those living in large urban centers:

require emergency attention as poverty, including extreme poverty, hunger, and homelessness have increased, if irreparable harm is not to be inflicted on them and our nation's future. The greatest threat to America's national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure to protect, invest in, and educate all our children who make up all our futures.”(2010, p. v)

Unfortunately, in the United States, children are the poorest age group and the younger the children are, the poorer they are. We rank highest among industrialized nations in relative child poverty and in the gap between rich and poor. According to the Children's Defense Fund (2010), the number and percent of poor children are higher now than they were 30 years ago, even though our gross domestic product is six times higher than it was then. Every fifth child is poor; every third black child is poor; and 1 in 12 children live in extreme poverty—at half the federal poverty level or below.

One of the major purposes of this strand is to serve as a springboard for administrators, supervisors, and practitioners who work in these settings to have an opportunity to gather together as a community and promote a dialogue. Almost all of our national conventions occur in urban cities and we need to focus our attention on the plight of youngsters who live in these challenging environments. Presenters will discuss the practical issues involved (e.g., transportation, record keeping, mobility, Medicaid reimbursement, linking youth to mental health treatment, supervising a large number of practitioners, and more). School psychologists have a great deal to offer to help urban youth. Through sharing programs and strategies that work, our nation's urban youth will benefit. We may help mitigate ethnic and racial disparities in academic achievement and provide social and emotional supports for children with multiple challenges.

Featured sessions in this strand include the following.

NASP Distinguished Lecture: Enhancing the Emotional Well-Being of Our Nation's Urban Youth

Salome Thomas-EL, Philadelphia, PA

The Distinguished Lecture will feature the 2010 convention keynote address speaker, who is an urban school principal, author, and national consultant. Principal EL will discuss the many physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and environmental changes that cause stress, and how coping can prove to be difficult for students in struggling families and communities.

Moving From a Failing to an Achieving School District: How Learning Supports Helped Reach Struggling Students (Upper Darby School District, PA)

Dan McGarry, Brenda Kabler, and other school staff, Upper Darby School District, PA; Amy Smith, Department of Education, PA

Learn how an urban school district, identified for corrective action, turned around student achievement through an infusion of student learning reforms. School improvement efforts were closely linked to those prioritized in the state education improvement plan and included a growth model student evaluation system, RTI problem-solving teams, more comprehensive school psychological services, and better coordinated school–community resources.

More information and a complete list of sessions in the strands are available online and in your preliminary program. Please consider attending the President's Strands as you participate in the Philadelphia convention. As a result, you will bring back important information and skills that you can use in your daily practice. Most importantly, it is my fervent hope that you will come away energized and see yourself as an advocate for the emotional wellbeing of our nation's youth.


Blum, R. W. (2005). A case for school connectedness. Educational Leadership, 62, 16–20.

Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools. New York, NY: SAGE.

Children's Defense Fund. (2010). The state of America's children. Washington, DC: Author. Available at http://www.childrensdefense.org/search/search.jsp

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Schellinger, K. B., & Taylor, R. D. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405–432. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x

Edelman, M. W. (2010). Children need help in this deep recession now. In Children's Defense Fund, The State of America's Children (pp. v-viii). Washington, DC: Author. Available at http://www.childrensdefense.org/search/search.jsp

Furrer, C., & Skinner, E. A. (2003). Sense of relatedness as a factor in children's academic engagement and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 148– 162. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.95.1.148

Greenberg, M. T., Weissberg, R. P., O'Brien, M. U., Zins, J. E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., … Elias, M. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist, 58, 466–474. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.58.6-7.466

Guerra, N. G., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2008). Linking the prevention of problem behaviors and positive youth development: Core competencies for positive youth development and risk prevention. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 122, 1–17. doi: 10.1002/cd.22

Horowitz, J. L., & Garber, J. (2007). The prevention of depressive symptoms in children and adolescents: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 401–415. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.5.693

Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004). Relationships matter: Linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement. Journal of School Health, 74, 262–273. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2004.tb08283.x

Lösel, F., & Beelman, A. (2003). Effects of child skills training in preventing antisocial behavior: A systematic review of randomized evaluations. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 587, 84–109. doi: 10.1177/0002716202250793

Loukas, A., Roalson, L. A., & Herrera, D. A. (2010) School connectedness buffers the effects of negative family relations and poor effortful control on early adolescent conduct problems. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20, 13–22. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2009.00632.x

Masten, A. S., & Coatsworth, J. D. (1998). The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. American Psychologist, 53, 205–220. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.53.2.205

New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. (2003). Achieving the promise: Transforming mental health care in America. Final report for the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (SMA Publication No. 03-3832). Rockville, MD: Author.

Resnick, M. D., Bearman, P. S., Blum, R. W., Bauman, K. E., Harris, K. M., Jones, J., … Udry, J. (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the national longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Journal of American Medical Association, 278, 823–832. doi: 10.1001/ jama.1997.03550100049038

Roberts, R. E., Attkisson, C. C., & Rosenblatt, A. (1998). Prevalence of psychopathology among children and adolescents. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 715–725.

Tobler, N. S., Roona, M. R., Ochshorn, P., Marshall, D. G., Streke, A. V., & Stackpole, K. M. (2000). School-based adolescent drug prevention programs: 1998 metaanalysis. Journal of Primary Prevention, 30, 275–336. doi: 10.1023/A:1021314704811

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of education 2011. (NCES Publication No. 2011-033).

U.S. Public Health Service. (2001). Report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services.

Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., & Walberg, H. J. (1997). Learning influences. In H. J. Walberg & G. D. Haertel (Eds.), Psychology and educational practice (pp. 199–211). Berkeley, CA: McCatchan.

Wang, M., & Holcombe, R. (2010). Adolescents' perceptions of school environment, engagement, and academic achievement in middle school. American Educational Research Journal, 47, 633–662. doi: 10.3102/0002831209361209

Wilkinson-Lee, A. M., Zhang, Q., Nuno, V. L., & Wilhelm, M. S. (2011) Adolescent emotional distress: The role of family obligations and school connectedness. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 221–230. doi: 10.1007/s10964-009-9494-9

Wilson, D. B., Gottfredson, D. C., & Najaka, S. S. (2001). School-based prevention of problem behaviors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 17, 247–272. doi: 10.1023/A:1011050217296

Wilson, S. J., & Lipsey, M. W. (2007). School-based interventions for aggressive and disruptive behavior: Update of a meta-analysis. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 33(Suppl. 2S), 130–143. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2007.04.011

Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Wang, M. C., & Walberg, H. J. (Eds.). (2004). Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Philip J. Lazarus, PhD, is the president of the National Association of School Psychologists.