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School-Based Mental Health Day in Missouri!
From special education eligibility criteria to dyslexia legislation, our profession is engulfed in the current political climate of this country. There is no escaping this reality and if you are reading this post, you are probably already keenly aware of this fact. So how do we make an impact and create positive changes for the students and families we serve?
Honestly, there is no easy answer to this question because advocacy is a lot like our students; there is no "one size fits all" solution. This blog post is going to focus on just one way (of many) that the Missouri Association of School Psychologists (MASP) has decided to tackle advocacy in our state...
Hosting an Annual School-Based Mental Health Advocacy Day
How it all began.
Three years ago, MASP successfully held the first School-Based Mental Health Advocacy Day in Missouri. How did we pull this off? Collaboration! When I took on the role as Co-Advocacy Chair of MASP with my previous Co-Chair Kim Moore, we agreed that one of our goals would be to host an Advocacy Day in our Capitol during that year's Legislative Session. In planning for this goal, we decided to join forces with the School Social Workers Association of Missouri (SSWAM) and not only host an Advocacy Day but pool our resources to hire and share the cost of a lobbyist. Without this collaboration, our Advocacy Day would not have been possible.
Making it happen.
After the key players were assembled, we scheduled several conference calls where we planned the actual event. Although the event has grown over the last three years, the key organizational components have remained the same:
1) Timing- Our first Advocacy Day was held in April, which was at the end of the Legislative Session. This led to two problems: 1) this is a busy time of the school year and many of our members were unable to attend, and 2) legislators had very little time to meet with us and many Bills had already been finalized.
2) Location- It is important to find a spot within your state's capitol building that your group can use as a "home base" throughout the day. These spots are difficult to come by, so it is important that you act early in securing an area for your group. To do this, we utilized our lobbyist. However, if you do not have a lobbyist, you can simply go to your capitol buildings website and look up event scheduling for more information.
3) Message- Choosing a succinct message/topic for our Advocacy Day was critical to the success of our event. We chose to focus on introducing ourselves to legislators and providing them with information on the role of a school psychologist/school social worker. This message was central in both the promotion of the event and the content that we provided legislators.
4) Communication- As this event has grown, so has our focus on this component of the planning stage. Communication includes promoting the event to our members and communicating the event to stakeholders, as well as the content/resources that we provide to the participants. We create posters/infographs, send out information via social media, and provide emails to the participants with key information to help them prepare for the event. In addition to all of this, we spend the first 20 minutes of the event providing every participant with a list of legislators, a schedule of meetings, a script, and a folder full of handouts to leave behind with each legislator.
As good as can be.
We just hosted our 3rd Advocacy Day on January 29th and the impact of this event is evident. How can I be so sure? Let me tell you...
- We have had between 20-30 participants ALL three years that we have held the event.
- We provide a follow-up survey for participants to gather feedback and make any necessary changes.
- We have created and sustained relationships with key legislators. They have attended other events that have been hosted by MASP and we have been asked for our input when addressing educational and mental health needs for children.
- We were able to successfully amend Legislation and secure a seat for a School Psychologist to be on the state's Dyslexia Task Force.
- We have attended hearings and provided testimony on legislation that affect the students and families we serve.
- We have gained support for the creation of additional School Psychology Ed.S. programs in the state and are working with multiple stakeholders to secure the necessary funds.
- Our event, information, and resources have been mentioned, shared, and tweeted out by the legislators that we meet and talk with at this event.
We are proud of our accomplishments and look forward to what lies ahead for next year's 4th Annual School-Based Mental Health Advocacy Day! Our associations are committed to continuing these important conversations and encouraging our members to become change agents in our state. One way in which we hope to grow this event next year, is by extending the event to include parents and other stakeholders (teachers, administrators, school board members) who have had positive experiences with School Psychologists/Social Workers and share our passion for school-based mental health supports and services.
I hope that this blog helps other state associations and school psychologists to take action and host similar events in their home states. NASP has so many wonderful resources to help you start the process! Go forth and become an agent for change in your state! The time is now!