Policy Matters Blog

School Psychology Awareness Week Comes to New Jersey!

By the time you read this, School Psychology Awareness Week will be over.  SPAW  was  a great vehicle to celebrating and promoting the valuable work school psychologists do.  SPAW has also been integral in our advocacy efforts here in New Jersey.  

The need for this recognition became particularly important during a recent presentation at the New Jersey Association of School Psychologists conference this past May. I was a co-presenter at a workshop entitled "Ask the School Psychologist," which was intended as an opportunity for graduate students and early career school psychologists to dialogue with experienced professionals and address any questions or concerns they may have. As it turned out, the attendees actually had a wide range of experience. After asking the participants to identify themselves, we asked them why they became school psychologists. The answers they gave I think reflect why all of us became school psychologists- they want to make difference in the lives of children, and work with these children, their teachers, parents, and the school community.  We then asked them to reflect on the extent to which they were meeting their career goals.  They all expressed very similar emotions, and if I had to summarize their responses, the words would be disappointment and frustration.  As was noted by a reviewer of our workshop, "Many expressed their frustration with how they are labeled in their school systems as simply members of the child study team and not what their titles actually are: school psychologists. Some people don't even know what school psychologists are, especially teachers. It's frustrating."  

As someone who has worked in New Jersey for several decades, this did not come as a complete surprise, yet it was still jarring to hear my colleagues express these feelings.  The feelings expressed by these participants certainly mirrored my own experience, and in many ways has fueled my own passion to advocate for school psychologists. The good news is we have in recent years become active in advocating for school psychology as a profession in New Jersey.  We have representatives on state committees involving the implementation of MTSS, ESSA, and social-emotional learning as well as a committee to address the needs of Transgender students. We have been invited to present at conferences sponsored by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education, and have been exhibitors at these conferences. In each of these cases, our focus was to advocate for the profession of school psychology, to help the public understand how school psychologists contribute to the school community.   

It was therefore particularly gratifying when the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly recently put forth a Joint Resolution recognizing School Psychology Awareness Week.  However, in terms of advocacy, this represents not an end but a continuation of a process. School Psychology Awareness Week should not occur once a week, but every week. It would be my hope that with recognition will come advocacy for school psychological services, not just from other school psychologists, but from teachers, parents, and administrators, who will become more aware of the wide range of services school psychologists provide, and will advocate for these services. And most importantly, the next time we have an "Ask the School Psychologists" workshop, the participants, rather than talking about their frustration and disappointment, will share their excitement, accomplishments and pride in being school psychologists!