2016 PPI Participants, Prepare to be Inspired

By: Temple University Graduate Students: Danielle L. Beysolow, M.Ed; Shannon V. Ryan, M.Ed; and Jenna M. Hudziak, M.Ed

Last summer, two of my fellow graduate students and I traveled from our new home in the School Psychology program at Temple University, located in Philadelphia, PA, to our nation's capital, Washington, DC. With only one year of training under our belts and hearts filled with passion for social justice, we found ourselves giddy at the opportunity to learn about the real stuff: childhood trauma and federal policy.

The three of us come from three different backgrounds, three different parts of the country, and have lead three very different lifestyles. However, we all understand the importance of federal policy and how it translates at the state level. Our professor, Dr. Nate von der Embse, recognized our passion and encouraged us to attend the 2015 Public Policy Institute (PPI) hosted by the National Association of School Psychologists and the George Washington University. His teaching and advising often pushed us to consider how federal and state policy affects our practice as School Psychologists and in turn affects the children we advocate for. The PPI was the perfect platform to not only learn about current policy, but it taught us methods of addressing trauma at a school and district-wide level and empowered us to advocate for these methods to actual state representatives.

In particular, the session on trauma-sensitive schools gave us a new framework for our experiences as graduate students working within the School District of Philadelphia. Speakers, including Dr. Eric Rossen and Dr. Marleen Wong, educated us on the influence of trauma on impairment in student functioning and achievement. Representatives from school districts in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania shared their success stories of how they actively address the needs of children who experience trauma at a systems level. These examples of model service delivery gave us hope and evidence that trauma-informed schools and districts are a real possibility for our youth, and that school psychologist play a pivotal role in the success of these schools and districts. Our trip to Capitol Hill was the one of the most empowering activities for us as graduate students. We had gone through an intense training where we learned how to communicate the vital role of school psychologists in promoting children's mental health, and were ready to share that belief with our representatives in Congress. Whether or not we had an influence on decisions that have recently been made in federal policy, we knew that we had done our part to advocate for the field of School Psychology. In small group sessions, we had the opportunity to examine our own beliefs with other school psychologists who were able to provide broader perspectives on topics we would have otherwise had more narrow views on; topics ranged from how we discipline students to how money is spent at the state level. Additionally, the informal networking that was encouraged helped to build our growing professional networks.

Now that we're back in Philly and have completed our second year of classes, we've had the opportunity to apply what we've learned at the PPI. As practicum students in the district, we witness the widespread impact of trauma on students, and we recognize a system-wide crisis in need of policy reform to ensure that schools adequately serve their students. After the PPI, we have sought out ways to serve students experiencing trauma at the individual level. Shannon and I are now certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and we implement strategies from TF-CBT with children we work with in the district. In addition to working directly with children who experience trauma, the PPI inspired me to pursue research interests and projects that revolve around providing mental health services to students who may have experienced trauma. I do this by validating measures of depression and anxiety and by creating and validating interventions that seek to reduce mental health treatment stigma in youth. Because of the PPI, Jenna now has goals of working to appropriately identify those who have experienced trauma and goals of leading teacher trainings that aid teachers in adopting trauma sensitive practices. As for Shannon, her professional goals have been driven by the passion that was ignited by the PPI. She also hopes to do work to appropriately identify those who have experienced trauma and to use mental health trainings to educate all members of the community and family. Though we all have varying career plans, the PPI has majorly influenced our planning.

To students and professionals considering the PPI experience, we encourage you to register and attend! The PPI may expose you to an entirely new way of viewing our profession and will help build your self-efficacy as a professional. Additionally, it will give you the opportunity to network with students and professionals from across the country as well as some of the leading researchers and practitioners in our field. As students, the PPI has been most beneficial in guiding research, professional development, and even professional goals. We predict that the PPI will serve as a source of inspiration to you as well.