What do school psychologists do? Part of their work includes “ensur[ing] the protection of the educational rights, opportunities and well-being of all children, especially those whose voices have been muted, identities obscured or needs ignored,” explains the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

School psychologists are specifically trained and highly qualified experts in learning and mental health that work in educational settings. As such, they are in a unique position to advocate for equity and social justice in education. This work includes working with school teams to help meet the educational needs of students with disabilities, providing counseling and other mental health support to marginalized students, advocating for systems-level policies that are equitable to students from diverse backgrounds, and connecting students and families with community-based support and advocacy networks.

Members of the Utah Association of School Psychologists are fortunate to have plenty of learning opportunities both in Utah and across the nation. Keep reading to see the ones we have benefited from this year.

Learning opportunities in Utah

There were several exciting professional opportunities for Utah school psychologists last month. One of them was the UASP Spring Workshop on Feb. 19. This year’s featured speaker was Dr. Paul Gorski, founder of the Equity Literacy Institute and EdChange. Gorski has more than 20 years of experience helping educators, nonprofit workers and others strengthen their equity efforts and has published numerous articles and books on various aspects of educational equity. You can learn more about Gorski and the Equity Literacy Institute at equityliteracy.org/team.

The topic of equity in education is especially timely amid the discussions about racism taking place over the past several months in our country. As we take time to honor and uplift the black voices in our community, we must also acknowledge the systemic racial inequality that exists, particularly in education, leading to poorer outcomes for our students of color. Through building awareness and education of these issues with the help of opportunities such as Dr. Gorski’s training, we can work harder to dismantle the systemic barriers in place and empower new generations of black voices.

During this year’s UASP Spring Workshop, school psychologists thanked Superintendent Sydnee Dickson for her leadership during the pandemic by giving her the Outstanding Advocate for Children and Families award. She has focused on both student academic well-being and the mental health of students and educators and has continually been an excellent, passionate and consistent advocate for Utah children. She is a strong voice in ensuring that our state’s educators are able to best serve students and implement appropriate knowledge and input when making decisions that impact students.

Superintendent Dickson has a long history of serving Utah children and families. She has 27 years of experience in various counseling, teaching and leadership capacities in the Davis, Granite and Murray school districts and has worked in the office of the Utah State Board of Education for nearly 10 years. She has served as Utah state superintendent of public instruction since June 2016 and served as interim state superintendent for six months before that.

Both her words and actions as state superintendent have demonstrated great dedication to children in many ways, including those areas that are a focus for school psychologists: social-emotional learning, mental health support, equitable education for all and appropriate special education for students with disabilities. We believe Superintendent Dickson is incredibly deserving of this award and are so pleased to honor her.

Learning opportunities nationwide

NASP is a professional association based in the United States and 25 other countries worldwide. NASP is composed of practicing school psychologists, graduate students and related professionals (e.g., behavior analysts and specialists, counselors and licensed psychologists). The vision of NASP is for all children and youth to thrive in all settings in the areas of learning, behavior and mental health. To learn more about NASP, visit their website.

Each year, NASP holds a convention in preselected areas across the United States. The NASP Annual Convention for 2021 was originally planned to be held in Salt Lake City but was moved to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the convention was held virtually this year, this did not prevent fantastic learning opportunities. The schedule included live learning and poster sessions, social events to allow for networking and even a movie night! Content for this year’s convention was extremely applicable to our communities, where topics focus on social justice, advocacy, telehealth and in-person assessment and services.

The keynote speaker this year was Steve Gross, MSW. Mr. Gross is the founder of the Life is Good Kids Foundation, a nonprofit aiming to spread optimism to children, even those who face adverse childhood experiences. He focuses on training stakeholders to do this through strength-based approaches. Given recent turbulence in health care, politics and social justice issues, school psychologists were eager to learn from Gross to help children in our communities.

The theme for this year’s convention was “The Power of Possibility.” Despite the challenges we’ve faced over the last year, we school psychologists are here to empower our youth and families. If you know a student who is struggling, please reach out to your school psychologist for help.

Kevin Labresh is a school psychologist for Davis School District and a Utah Association of School Psychologists Trustee.

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