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Practicing Radical Hope Through Advocacy
On June 5, 2023, I was honored to testify at a Congressional forum hosted by the House Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce (GVPT) on the impact of school and community violence on youth mental health. NASP has long been a leader in advancing evidence-based crisis prevention and response, comprehensive school safety, and gun violence prevention efforts. This work has not gone unnoticed, as the GVPT was adamant that a school psychologist be at the table. It was an extraordinary opportunity to contribute NASP's voice and share school psychologists' vital role in violence prevention and response directly with Members of Congress committed to ending the epidemic of gun violence in this country.
Throughout my presidency, I have highlighted the importance of including diverse voices at all decision-making tables. NASP is the voice of school psychologists at the national level. I was proud to represent our profession, share the experiences of school psychologists who have responded to incidents of gun violence, and highlight the impact gun violence has on the children and youth we serve-especially those in minoritized communities, who are more likely to be exposed to gun violence. Following statements from all the panelists, including PTA President Anna King, gun violence survivors, researchers, and law enforcement, members of the GVPT had the opportunity to ask specific questions of the panelists. Although I am aware of the research about the prevalence of gun violence, it was remarkable that almost everyone in the room had been impacted by gun violence in some way. Many reflected on the racial disparities in gun violence, yet also acknowledged that no community is immune from its harmful effects.
Many of the questions centered on the issue of youth trauma and the role of schools in preventing and responding to gun violence. Specifically, I was asked about the effect of metal detectors and school hardening measures; how schools can equip young people to appropriately resolve conflicts and engage in positive change in their communities; and how we can address the trauma young people experience when they are exposed, both directly and indirectly, to gun violence. These questions allowed me to illuminate the critical role of school psychologists in crisis prevention and response; emphasize the need for policy and practice that make students feel physically and psychologically safe, such as positive school climate and multitiered systems of supports; and call on policy makers to address the root causes of gun violence instead of hardening schools. I also highlighted the importance of culturally responsive school mental and behavioral health services, including trauma informed practices. Schools should take the stance that all students have experienced a trauma-whether it be exposure to or fear of gun violence or something else-and implement trauma-informed practices. As I said at the forum, "Instead of saying 'what's wrong with them,' we must ask 'what happened to them?'"
Violence prevention efforts cannot occur in silos. Students and schools are embedded in broader communities. Students take what happens at home and in their community into the school building (and vice versa), whether that be stress, trauma, or violence itself. Many issues such as truancy and inattentiveness in class are attributed to lack of interest in school, but often there is a deeper reason, such as fear of violence on their way to and from or at school. That is why it is so important to have school-based mental health services in every school to foster environments where students feel safe and can also receive support for any stress and trauma they experience. I also reminded members of the GVPT, many times, how the critical workforce shortages impede our ability to support all students. Although I did not notice this myself, I was told by the NASP staff who accompanied me that my comments appeared to really resonate with members of the GVPT and some even silently clapped when I mentioned the need to address workforce shortages.
The forum ended with a Member asking me my favorite question from the day: What else can policy makers do as we all continue working to end gun violence once and for all? I continued to beat the drum and asked her, and all the other Members present, to fund school-based mental health services and efforts to address the root causes of shortages. As Rep. Danny Davis (IL-7) had said earlier in the forum, "An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure." Comprehensive school-based mental health services are highly beneficial to students' well-being, safety, and academic achievement, and I urged policy makers to make robust investments to address the critical workforce shortages of school and community-based providers and to diversify the field.
We must focus on solutions and efforts that empower our young people with a sense of agency and give them the social-emotional tools to make change.
By using NASP's voice to support efforts to end gun violence-and in the broader conversation of school safety-we can help empower the students we serve and empower ourselves. Last September in Communiqué, I wrote that radical hope demands that "We believe in 'what could be' and that our collective actions have the potential to transform the future." The fruits born of radical hope inspire us to create the world in which we want to live and take action. I firmly believe that advocacy is an act of radical hope, and it is a necessary component of our work as school psychologists.
During my presidency, I have engaged with policy makers and educated others on key issues affecting school psychology. But our association's president alone does not carry NASP's voice. All NASP members carry it, too, and it is equally important that you engage in advocacy to advance evidence-based, good policy at the local, state, and national levels.
As my time as NASP president comes to a close, I call upon all of you to loudly and proudly share NASP's voice along with your own by advocating for your students, evidence-based policy, and a world built on radical hope.