Creating Access: Advocate
By Sally A. Baas
By now you are likely counting your blessings—school and your job have started well, caseloads are ramping up, conferences are in full swing—and yet, you know there are things that are tugging for your professional attention, activism, and advocacy.
As President of NASP this year, I am particularly excited to be able to represent you and to advocate for our profession. When I think about advocacy, I think about the various student populations with whom I work: my immigrant and refugee students who are doing their best to achieve in a system very foreign to what they have experienced in their home countries. Often these are children with no health insurance or means to receive services they need. My Native American students are often not receiving education through an indigenous conceptual framework, and my Southeast Asian students are trying to keep one foot in their traditional culture and one in a new American culture. I am concerned about homeless students who come to school with grungy clothes, having had little sleep and no shower in days. I am worried about the bullies and the bullied, the terrorized and tortured, the angered and angry, the readers and those who aren't. My list goes on as I think about how to serve them all. I imagine your list of concerns is something like mine.
Sometimes it seems like there is too little energy, too little money, and too little concern from those with the ability to help meet the essential needs of our kids. How do we approach these issues and people who can help promote safety, good mental health, a strong economy, and prepare successful professionals to meet their needs? I think we gather the data and the stories, and we take them to decision makers who will listen and team with us to make change happen for children, youth, families, and communities.
The data. Nationally, there are 23% of children who are living in poverty, 32% of children whose parents lack secure employment, 40% of children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and 8% of teens not in school and not working, according to Kids Count 2013, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Their website (http://datacenter.kidscount.org) is an incredibly useful resource for population- based data at the county, state, and national levels on risk and protective factors shaping kids' lives.
Often, data alone isn't enough to gain the attention of decision makers. It's important to put a face on the data by telling a story. One of my stories is about second grade student Chong Vang, who lives in town with 10 other people, whose father is an out-of-work machinist, with a rented home in a violent gang territory, who has no regular food provision, and whose brothers of working age are without skills or the will to work. Chong has no one to read lessons or books to him because none of the family knows English except for the little he has learned since coming from a Thailand refugee camp. We all have stories like this that we can tell as we seek to find support for our students. The data lends credibility and context to your case; the story is what decision makers relate to and remember.
As school psychologists, we have excellent training in working with students in schools and communities, but sometimes we haven't developed the skills in advocacy to tell our own stories to make change happen. If you are like me with so many things on your plate, perhaps you will be pleased to know that NASP is helping us by providing us with opportunities to learn how to advocate for our students and our profession, and assisting us with leadership ideas to make change happen at school, and in the community, state, and nation.
To advance those objectives, efforts are underway to provide opportunities for advocacy training in state leadership groups prior to regional leadership meetings this fall, with the NASP Assistance to States and Government and Professional Relations committees cosponsoring a basic advocacy training designed to help build the capacity of attendees and state associations to engage in effective legislative and professional advocacy. In addition, on Tuesday, February 18, 8:30–11:30 a.m., just prior to the NASP convention in Washington, DC, a 3-hour advocacy workshop combined with visits to Capitol Hill will help us learn advocacy at all levels for policies, services, and supports to help promote success in school. Register today for this timely professional development opportunity. Finally, you can learn some basic tips for advocating at the building and district levels, and earn NASP-/APAapproved CPD, by taking Promoting and Preserving Your Role to Improve Student Outcomes through the NASP Online Learning Center.
A Cherokee quote comes to my mind: “We can only be what we give ourselves the power to be.” Please be a strong and able advocate.
Sally A. Baas, EdD, is on the faculty of Concordia University–St. Paul (MN) and is president of the National Association of School Psychologists.