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Student Advocacy: A Call to School Psych Graduate Students

By Eric Rossen, Doctoral Student, University of Florida

As a graduate student in school psychology, I have spent many hours in the school setting. Perhaps the most valuable component of this practical experience is the discussion that follows with professors and fellow classmates in my program.  As my classmates and I have become more knowledgeable and confident in our abilities, we have found ourselves increasingly critical about current legislation that governs our practice and questioning those who enact these policies.  We refer to policymakers as they, without any idea of who we are referring to or the process that guides policymaking. Each discussion adjourns with our collective feeling of helplessness, conceding that despite our strong feelings about how we think things should be, we are not in a position to do anything about it. 

The broad responsibilities of school psychology graduate students typically result in opportunities to effect change on an individual and small group level.  However, the responsibility of effecting change on a national level through advocacy and public policy is often neglected among students and training programs. While traditional responsibilities remain critical, increased advocacy and legislative action could likely result in improved preparation and service delivery for all practitioners. This year alone has proven that political activity at the Capitol will eventually affect service delivery models and perhaps the future of the profession.

For example, school psychologists will undoubtedly be affected by the reauthorization of IDEA, the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, hopeful passage of mental health parity legislation, and the continued squeeze on Medicaid programs and children's health insurance programs.  In addition, the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health report and implementation of its recommendations could greatly impact funding and the implementation of school psychology services.  What is troubling is that most students across the country are not aware of recent legislative initiatives or those currently on the table in Congress, and consequently unaware that they could impact the result.

The public policy arena is one of the most effective avenues for graduate students to influence the future of school psychology.  Many students feel that they have little say or impact on the direction of the profession.  However, most students are not aware of the plethora of opportunities to become involved in public policy and speak with those who can help. When I became interested in public policy, I called individuals from NASP, APA, and my state organization, and I was greeted by all with enthusiasm, cordiality, and an openness to answering my questions and providing information on my possible role in public policy as a student. In addition, they all stressed the ease and importance of communicating directly with local and regional representatives.  In fact, all it takes is an e-mail and/or phone call to meet with a local representative to discuss current legislation and issues in education and mental health. 

Many students (and practitioners) feel apprehensive about meeting individually or even speaking on the phone with an elected official or his or her staff.  But those who have met with representatives and staff have commented on how receptive their members of Congress were and on how open they are to meeting with more than one individual at a time.  In addition, our elected officials typically know little, if anything, about the daily issues faced by individual practitioners and graduate students practicing in the field.  Listening to constituents is not only their obligation, but often an informative and essential component of the policymaking process.

The future of school psychology is uncertain as a result of nation-wide shortages and inadequate funding for education and mental health services. This uncertainty warrants significant concerns for graduate students. Every decision made on Capitol Hill will impact the practice and service delivery of school psychologists for years to come.  Therefore, addressing legislation on issues related to school psychology should no longer remain a secondary role of graduate students and training programs.  Rather, it should become a necessity and an obligation to insure a future of quality service delivery and effective practice.

For more information on getting involved in legislation affecting school psychology, subscribe to the NASP Legislative Updates, review recent and past updates, and contact your federal and state lawmakers using the NASP Advocacy Action Center, all at http://www.nasponline.org/advocacy.

Eric Rossen is a school psychology doctoral student at the University of Florida and has recently become involved with NASP staff to help strengthen student outreach and advocacy efforts.