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School psychologists prepare for crisis in training at Duquesne University

Jamie Martines
| Friday, March 2, 2018 11:00 p.m

About 60 school psychologists from about 30 schools across southwest Pennsylvania gathered at Duquesne University this week to learn crisis prevention and recovery techniques.

The training included ways to identify students who might need extra mental health support, helping students recover from a traumatic event and teaching other school community members, such as parents and teachers, how to talk to students about a crisis.

The training was scheduled before the school shooting Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed. With that incident in mind, facilitators said it’s important for school psychologists to think about how they will respond if such an event happens at their school.

“Crises are scary, and we need to prevent as many as we can, and prepare for the ones we can’t,” said Jean Boyer, assistant professor of school psychology at Temple University. She facilitated the two-day session, which was based on a curriculum developed by the National Association of School Psychologists.

Other takeaways from the training session included:

How a crisis impacts students

A student is stabbed in a playground fight. A teacher passes away after a heart attack. A storm destroys the school. An intruder enters a school with a weapon. These are only a few of the scenarios school psychologists are preparing to address.

Most children will recover from trauma, and many have good coping skills and strong family and community support. But for those who don’t have those skills and resources, a crisis could have a lasting impact, socially and academically, Boyer said.

“If we don’t respond to them after a crisis, then they can be in serious trouble mental-health wise,” Boyer said.

And the stakes are high: The physical and emotional stress a student feels after a crisis ultimately could impact learning. Their grades could drop, putting them at risk for not graduating or not reaching their full potential, Boyer said.

Psychologists encouraged to be proactive with pupils

“All of this is geared toward learning,” said Melissa Holloway, a former high school biology teacher in Harrisburg and Philadelphia pursuing graduate studies in school psychology at Temple University. She co-facilitated the training session.

“We’re setting the stage for what occurs the rest of their life,” Holloway said, emphasizing that school psychologists should be proactive about monitoring students’ mental health. This includes teaching students how to understand and talk about their emotions, helping them learn what to do when they feel sad or angry and identifying students who might need extra services.

Getting teachers, parents and caregivers involved

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one psychologist for every 500 to 700 students in places where a psychologist provides day-to-day services such as counseling, crisis response or behavior interventions.

In the wake of a crisis, a higher volume of students could need support. In such situations, Boyer said it’s important to make sure school community members such as teachers, parents and other caregivers are prepared to talk with students about their feelings and provide factual answers to their questions.

In addition, they must be on the lookout for signs that a student is not coping well, Boyer said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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