Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Month in Review (aka "Wow, I'm Lazy")

Wow, I suck at blogging! In my defense, this has been a wacky month. Very much looking forward to winter break for a few days to recoup! Here's a recap of some of the great business going down lately:

  • I was quickly called to action by my principal and made a mad dash to collect cards for the Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign. About 130 cards from my students were sent off to the American Red Cross to be distributed to soldiers. My favorite card (which I forgot to take a picture of, damn!) was made by a young lady in 8th grade who has notorious attitude problems. The letter she wrote in her card showed real thought, caring, and compassion for a soldier's work, and was beautifully decorated.   
  • A church in a nearby suburb sponsored our school building and donated over 260 gifts--one to every student in Pre K to 3rd grade. Each child received a clothing item, toy, and book for Christmas from their generous parishioners. They also donated more than $700 to be put towards gift cards for our older students. Then, when a family in our school had a house fire last week, they quickly rallied their troops and gathered bags of gifts, handmade quilts, monetary donations, and household items to give to them. Talk about the Christmas spirit!
  • Amazingly, I cranked out seven different kinds of Christmas cookies this year. Almost all of them are being given away as gifts (co-workers, principal, family and friends, I thank you and so do my thighs).
  • My office is being merged with the office of another group of service providers in our building. My office houses myself, the social worker, and our Committee on Special Education (CSE) chairperson, and the other office contains a variety of community mental health and counseling providers. We're hoping that having all of us in the same office will facilitate communication regarding students and families, and generally get help out to those who need it faster. Plus, they're a fun bunch of folks!
  • I tested a boy who is going to be declassified from special education next month. W, a student diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), was a major behavior problem when he was younger, but has since blossomed into an articulate and responsible young man. He has been receiving services to help assist him in focusing in the classroom but hasn't needed them, so at his reevaluation meeting next month, we're going to discuss exiting him from special education. My first declassification this year and a great success story!
  • The holiday performances put on by our students were, in a word, precious. There is nothing like working in a school around the holidays.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I just stumbled upon something I'd like to share, and in the process, relate it back to something going on in my school building.

Each month, the students in my building practice a character trait as part of our character education and PBIS programs. This month, our character trait is caring. Every morning on the announcements, the school is reminded of small ways that they can be caring towards others.

I just found out about the American Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign, which sends American service men and women holiday cards. I forwarded the link to my staff (yep, spamming your inbox again!) because I thought it would be a great way for students (and everyone else) to demonstrate caring this December. If you choose to participate, cards must be postmarked by December 10th.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snow Day!


That is all.

Update 12/03: Snow Day v2.0! The southern half of the city is still covered in snow and has a driving ban so plows can clear the streets. Guess that includes a school bus ban as well! Not a flake in my backyard, but you won't hear me complaining about a day off.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dove Makes Kids Touchy-Feely

There's a new phenomenon going on in my school: students are obsessed with my hair. Yes, you read that right. My hair.

Ever since the beginning of the year, I've had kids randomly start touching my hair, commenting on how soft it is. Now, my hair is nothing special. Brown, straight, past my shoulders... rather ordinary. What compels the children to stroke it?

It's not just the wee ones, either. Sure, there was the kindergartner that snuck up behind me and began petting the nape of my neck while I was crouched down talking to another student and the first grader that assaulted me on gym duty to stroke my hair and hands (which are also, apparently, quite soft). But when a fourth grade boy, P, who came down at the end of the day for a behavior check-in started to caress my tresses from behind as I sat at my desk, I couldn't believe the fascination (P is also one of the gentlemen who thinks Boyfriend drives a Nascar... see "Ask a Question"). In P's case, I took the opportunity to have a quick talk on keeping one's hands to oneself, appropriate touches, and asking permission. Ever since, P has always asked very politely for permission before touching my hair.

I can't deny them, the whole situation is just too amusing. It never gets old hearing a child exclaim, "Miss, your hair so soft!!" But understand it? Nope!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Streaking Towards the Future

This week, I had the fortunate pleasure of escorting eleven 4th, 5th, and 6th graders to a local college for a field trip. Undergraduate education majors from this college have been visiting every week to tutor our students in reading and math skills. As a thank you to the students, the college students invited their elementary buddies to their college for a visit. The college is close enough to school that we were able to walk, and when we arrived, the kids were given a royal welcome. The college students' professor was there, the Dean of the School of Education, and the college mascot! Each person personally welcomed and thanked the students for being there (minus the mascot, who just fist pumped), and their excitement of having our students there was so clear. After the welcoming, our students went on a tour of campus and had lunch at the college dining hall. Let me tell you, there's nothing more thrilling for an 11-year-old boy than unlimited all you can eat pizza and cookies. After lunch, the students were given drawstring backpacks with the college's name on them, and two reserved seat tickets to a basketball game on campus.

In a large urban city, particularly in a school building that is predominantly minority, low socioeconomic status, and in a bad part of town, you have to wonder how many of those kids actually have college in their future. Granted, not everyone needs to go to college to have a successful career, but we push students in our building hard to plan for higher education. By 8th grade, when they're picking out which high schools to apply to, it may be too late to start thinking about college, so we're starting to discuss college beginning in 4th grade. (Maybe it's for the best, since one of the students who went didn't know there were any colleges in our city. There are about 10.) Sure, to most of the kids who went on the field trip, the great lunch was the highlight. But maybe, for a select few, it was a first look into their futures.

As long as that future doesn't include this, I'm game.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The New James Dean

A fourth grader came into my office today to report on the great day he had. D has had off and on behavior problems throughout the last few weeks, many of them resulting from verbal altercations with the music teacher first period, which throws the whole rest of his day off. D proudly declared that he was "done being bad." Why, I asked?

"Because it's not cool."

You heard it here first, folks.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Today is a Good Day to...

This week was School Psychology Awareness Week, and the theme this year was “Today is a Good Day to… SHINE.” I emailed my psychologist colleagues a few weeks ago to see if anyone was doing something in their buildings to commemorate. After all, we have secretary’s day, teacher’s day, etc, why not a whole week to help educate and celebrate our profession and the awesome kids we work with?! Unfortunately, my colleagues were not inspired. One psychologist replied to my mass email (yep, I’m spamming your inbox) by saying that “people know [him] by the work [he] does every day.” True story.

I put up the “SHINE” poster that the National Association of School Psychologists sent out on a bulletin board in our hall, but am not doing anything special this year. Maybe next year I’ll be able to plan something.  In the meantime, I want to “shine” some light on the good/cute things going on in my building by writing a few blurbs for some of the ways NASP encourages students to “SHINE”: 

See my blog post about my student and homeroom of the month duties.  

A. often comes down to my office right before lunch and at the end of the day to check-in. On his behavior plan, if he has had a good morning, he is rewarded with a positive call home at those times. Unfortunately, A.’s mom’s cell phone was recently disconnected, so he was unable to make his phone call home one day. He was about ready to blow his top, but I offered to teach him to play Uno as his reward instead. He loved it, and we played four or so games before he had to head back to his class. It was a wonderful break for me to get to play games (awesome), and helped him to hold it together! 

As a member of my building’s Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) team, we are often called on to teach and refresh the faculty on how PBIS works in our building and how to handle behavior problems. Last night, I stayed after school with the team to film skits showing a major offense (student having a weapon) and a minor offense (horseplay in the halls). Let me tell you, there is nothing funnier than 7 adults hamming it up pretending to be rowdy kids. I can’t wait until we show the videos at our faculty meeting next week! 

Ask a Question
On my desk is a picture of Boyfriend and I on our vacation to Cedar Point Amusement Park this past June. The picture was taken after we rode Top Thrill Dragster, a massive “strata-coaster” with a racing theme.  Behind us is a drag racing car. Virtually every male student that has come into my office this year, after seeing the photo, has excitedly blurted out, “IS THAT HIS CAR?!” Yes, children, he drives a hot rod to the office every day… and gets excellent gas mileage to boot! 

Say “Thank You”
Every morning, I have an AM duty. There is a girl in 1st grade that has narcolepsy, and she has an aide for personal safety. Because her aide is has a different duty during breakfast, I take her to breakfast and stay with her until her teacher picks her up at the start of the day. There are four classes of 1st graders in the breakfast room in the morning, which you can imagine gets a little crazy! This morning, I saw one of the best displays of manners by a 6-year-old ever (or maybe, since they are still learning, I was just blown away that this gentleman had it down). A little boy came up to me, waited until I was available, then politely said, “Excuse me, would you please open my juice?” When I did, he said “thank you,” and I praised him from here to Sunday for his excellent manners.  

Be Proud
I’m feeling more and more confident in my job every day! 

Make a Friend
One of the students who “checks-in” with me twice a day for behavior came to the office one day before lunch with an office write-up and tears in her eyes. A. had been having difficulty with a girl in her class, K., with some relational aggression and general not niceness. I called both the girls down for a peer mediation, and it turns out that K.’s way of joking around was more aggressive than A. was expecting, which she took to mean that K. didn’t like her or want to be her friend. Once it was all out on the table, and K. understood why A. was upset, the two agreed they wanted to be friends. Earlier this week I passed them in the hall smiling and laughing with one another. Put another tally mark in my column!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

School Psychology Awareness Week

Happy School Psychology Awareness Week! Let the party begin... no one outside of the profession will know what is going on!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This One's For the Girls

I was very lucky to have a close group of girls that comprised my cohort in grad school. We were 10 Masters/Advanced Certificate students (plus 5 PhD that we had some classes with) all about the same age. We spent so much time together for three years that it was easy to make some good friendships. When we went on internship, our cohort was unique in that almost all of us stayed in the Western NY area, and even more specifically, the same city/suburbs. The majority of us still live here, which is fantastic.

When graduation hit and we were thrust out of "going to class" and into "looking for a job" mode, life became a little more difficult. Instead of seeing each other every day or week, it turned into once a month. Towards the end of the summer, we got together to celebrate engagements and new hirings and vowed that we had to have monthly get-togethers. Tonight, I had dinner with a few of the girls to celebrate one of them getting hired for a short-term position. It was great to catch up and hear how their jobs have been going, trade stories and frustrations, laugh about grad school days and crazy colleagues, and just be "the cohort" again.

So gals, since we're big kids now, here's to wedding planning, turning 30 ("What? She's 30?!"), getting a job that's less than 40 minutes from home, and getting to do what we were trained to do. And damnit, we're good at it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Average" Part Deux

In my entry about B, I referred to him as having average IQ. But, what is considered "average"? Brace yourselves, I'm about to get bust out some Super School Psychologist Lingo.

The above graph is a bell curve showing a normal distribution of IQ scores. When I describe a student's IQ, I use terms such as Very Superior, Superior, High Average, Average, Low Average, Borderline, and Extremely Low ("Mentally Deficient" has gone out of style). An IQ score of 100 is considered Average. There's a 15 point leeway on either side of 100, getting us to Low Average or High Average. From there, we either work up or down by 15 points to reach the other descriptors. 

Kids that are considered Gifted and Talented typically fall at 130 or above (to Very Superior, and beyond!). Students who could be described as mentally retarded are a bit more tricky to pin down. A classification of "Mental Retardation" typically requires an IQ of below 65-70 (varies on what you consult), achievement in reading, writing, and math below 65-70, and delayed adaptive behavior. Adaptive behavior refers to skills needed for independent living, such as feeding and dressing one's self, communicating effectively, and appropriate social skills. There are varying degrees of mental retardation: mild, moderate, severe, and profound. Individuals with moderate, severe, or profound mental retardation are likely to have adaptive behavior too low to live independently.

Fun (yet horrifying) Fact: In the early 1900s, the terms mild, moderate, severe, and profound were not used to describe mental retardation. Instead, moron, imbecile, and idiot were used. Classy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I'm currently working on a reevaluation of a young man's special education program to see if it is still the right fit for him. B's in a 6:1+1 classroom, which has 6 students, 1 teacher, and 1 aide, but he actually goes to a general education classroom that has a special education teacher helping in it for most of the day and does very well academically. B has average IQ and reading, writing, and math scores.

B came down to my office this morning for testing and was such a peach to work with! He was polite and well-mannered, cooperative, attentive, and put forth great effort. As much as I love the "problem children" that have difficulty in school and working with them to help them learn more effectively, it's such a treat to work with an "average" student. It puts things back in perspective, and B really started the day off on a lovely note. After we finished our "yay, you finished 1.5hr of IQ testing!" celebratory game of Uno and B went back to his classroom with his new Spiderman pencil as a reward, I happily went on with my day. Of course, I was almost immediately called to go deal with a student who was running the building, so it was downhill from there. Blargh. But hey, I'll take what I can get.

Monday, October 18, 2010

PBIS: Putting Smiling Faces in Your Hallways

Our school has a Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) system in place. The first step of PBIS is to set universal rules and expectations that all students are to follow, like wearing uniforms, specific voice levels in specific parts of the building, hands and feet to self, etc. These universal rules, if done right, are to keep the whole school environment safe and successful. Of course, if Tyreke is a repeat offender at kicking Marco in reading group, obviously the universal rules aren't working for him, and we need to try another behavior intervention with him. But, that's another ball of wax!

At the beginning of the school year, my principal emailed asking the staff for a volunteer to be in charge of the students and homerooms of the month program, which rewards students for following the universal rules of our PBIS program. Since I'm part of the building's PBIS Team, I thought it would be a great way to recognize the kids that are "doing the right thing," instead of dwelling on the ones who are having trouble keeping it together. Plus, how often do I get to see the "good kids"? Our administration team chooses the homerooms of the month, and teachers nominate a student from their class to be a student of the month. They also get the option to nominate a "most improved" student, which I think is fantastic and rewarding for kids who may have hit a rough patch, but were able to get it back together.

As for my responsibilities, I am in charge of collecting names from all the teachers for their students of the month, announcing the names of the homerooms and students on the morning annoucements at the end of the month, handing out certificates and taking pictures of the winning students, and doing two bulletin boards with those pictures. The payoff is seeing all those happy teachers and students passing by the bulletin boards, pointing at pictures of themselves, their friends, or students, and realizing that their hard work is paying off.

Or at least that's how my glass-half-full mind looks at it. :)

Your Check Engine Light is On

So often teachers and other school personnel get wrapped up in what a student isn't doing or a goal they aren't reaching, rather than what they are doing. I'll make a personal example that is not school related. Ever since I went away to college, my dad has made a valiant effort to get me to take an interest in the inner workings of my car. He taught me how to check my oil, how to fill my windshield washer fluid, when to add this fluid and get that filter changed, how to check my tire pressure and where it should be at each time of the year, etc. Now, being an only daughter, it was my understanding that these things were my daddy's job, and as such I took no interest in such matters (sorry Dad!). But, as I've gotten older, I've taken more responsibility for how my car is running (or passed any issues off to Boyfriend... mwahaha). I won't ever be a car whiz kid, and I certainly won't meet my dad's car standards, but my windshield washer is always full!

Teachers and school staff need to reward students for the small milestones they reach. If Desire has difficulty working independently, reward her for having her pencil out or putting her name on her paper. So what if Frankie wanders the classroom aimlessly? Reward him for just sitting in his seat! Help Monique learn to raise her hand rather than yell out by praising the heck out of her the few times she does remember to put her hand up. Small steps can add up to real behavior changes, and it reminds students of the great little things they do every day (and it reminds the teachers too, which might be more important!).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

CSE Meetings: Not Just an Excuse for a Third Cup of Coffee

So my last entry was all about feeling hopeless and useless at my job, but this entry is not… hooray!

This week, we had our first day of Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings of the school year. Two of the meetings were for initial referrals for special education that were sent in over the summer and two of them were three-year reevaluations. CSE meetings are a forum to get input from the school psychologist, social worker, educational evaluator, teacher, parent, and sometimes the student, about how a student is doing academically. If things are not working in the special education program a student is in, changes can be made to better suit the child’s needs. Ultimately, it is the CSE’s job to ensure that a student’s educational needs are being met so the student can be successful (no pressure).

The day before our CSE meetings, the social worker, the CSE chair/educational evaluator, and I sat down to discuss the cases we were meeting on. We got to bring all our evaluations and data to the table and get a whole picture of each student. It’s like fitting puzzle pieces together in anticipation of the final product. The social worker discussed developmental milestones and family life, the chair/educational evaluator talked about strengths and weaknesses in reading, written language, and math, and as the psychologist, I brought learning styles and cognitive skills to the table. It helped us all get on the “same page” about where the students were coming from and where they are going.

After our discussion, I felt great… totally comfortable and empowered with my career choice. I knew my stuff and did my best to explain it to those who are not psychologist-savvy so that they understand our students, too (and as Boyfriend can attest after many a rambling conversation about MR, ED, LD, VCI, PRI, and FSIQ, this is not always easy to do). I realized not only can I “talk the talk,” I can “walk the walk” as a school psychologist. I’m finally feeling like I can swim rather than sink in my district, which, you know, is a pretty good thing.

Of course, we spent Friday afternoon planning out and scheduling our next three days of CSE meetings, which made me realize the uber amounts of work I have to do before then. But, that can wait til Monday.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hopelessly Hopeful

My apologies for the delay in entries (to those few who are reading ;) )—I have been without Internet at my humble abode for the majority of the week.

Dealing with students in crisis can make you feel completely hopeless at your job. Earlier this week, I was called by administration because a first grader had said he wanted to hurt himself. This student, XX, is in special education and has a history of behavior problems, particularly inattention and noncompliance. While a lot of his problems come from wanting peer and adult attention, he also completely lacks self-control over his actions. He also may have underlying mental health issues that haven’t been discovered yet. I’ve been working with XX’s teacher all year regarding his behavior, and the Committee of Special Education (CSE) is also going to meet soon to reevaluate his needs.

During a threat assessment with a social worker in our building, XX was out of his seat, destroying the room, running from the room (I had to block the door and got barreled down a few times when he would try to escape), and crying/screaming. XX repeatedly said that he wanted to hurt himself because it was “funny” and that he would run out of the building and get hit by a car. While we didn’t feel XX had the true means and intent to harm himself (though when I got him from his class, he was slamming himself in the bathroom door, to the delight of his peers…argh), we were concerned about his well-being and feared that he would truly leave the school building. As such, administration called his mom and he went home.

Through this whole ordeal, I felt like I had no grip on the situation. How do you deal with a student who is so unfocused and defiant that you can get nothing done? How do you handle students like this when their behavior is the same, day in and day out? How can I give teachers suggestions on how to handle students like XX when I can’t handle him myself one-on-one, and am not a classroom teacher myself, despite whatever behavioral training I have? Hopefully I’ll be closer to answering these questions as the year goes on and I gain experience, because it is no fun dealing with a 6-year old who can’t deal.

Monday, September 27, 2010


A little girl with autism, H, transferred to our district from another state this year, and I did an evaluation on her last week to determine if a regular kindergarten would be the right classroom for her to be in. I stopped by H’s room this morning to see if her teacher had some paperwork I needed. When I was leaving, she followed me to the door and threw her arms around my waist. As I crouched down to see what was up, I found out that she was crying. I comforted her and asked her why she was upset, and she sobbed out, “I just want all my dreams to come true.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week in Review

As I say goodbye to students on the bus sidewalk, confirm that “yes, I will meet with you Monday regarding E’s behavior plan,” wave adieu to little hands peeping though bus windows, and jokingly mumble under my breath about having a glass of wine when I get home to tired coworkers as we walk to our cars, I look back on the past five days. I really dug my heels into the job this week. I started up some (so far) successful behavior modification plans, gave IQ tests, consulted with teachers regarding students, observed students in their classes, and as always, typed reports. I love lists and other organizational goodies (see: dork), so here’s a recap of some of this week’s highs (I could write about the lows, but c’mon, I’m ever the optimist):
  • For the first time, I signed my name as “Certified School Psychologist.”
  • I wore my purple pumps from Nine West and felt like a power house walking down the hall.
  • My PM duty was changed from the gym to standing on the sidewalk supervising lines of students as they head to their busses (hooray!).
  • I’ve had awesome homegrown apples for lunch all week that Boyfriend and I picked when we went apple-picking last weekend (I love falls in NY!)
  • I got to play Uno with two 5th graders as reward/reinforcements for having a great week on their behavior modification plans.
  • I got my business cards (with the incorrect email address… boo).
  • I have keys to my office, a swipe ID card to get into my building, and my email system is finally set up.
  • I got oodles of hugs from both strange and familiar kids at dismissal
  • I had my first psychologist department meeting. It was great to connect with fellow professionals, especially those psychologists I’ve spoken to since starting, but haven’t met face-to-face with yet.
Now, it’s time to make dinner (teriyaki turkey tenderloin, roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, and broccoli)!


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Honeymoon is Over

"Honeymoon." It's that blissful period at the beginning of a relationship or endeavor when things are peachy keen (jelly bean). The school psychologist knows the honeymoon is over when teachers start to panic and the referrals start rolling in. For me, that time is now.

The beginning of the school year always begins with students (and teachers) putting on their best faces. Kids are still in that bleary beginning of school phase--perhaps due to nerves, perhaps due to the return of the early wake-up call. Teachers aren't yet aware of the "problem kids," and haven't gotten into academics enough to find out which students may have a tough time. Ah, but two weeks in, the gloves come off and the true personas come out.

Teachers at my building are starting to get a little wacky now that they're back from their honeymoons. When I pass folks in the office or hall, it's a sea of concerns regarding a student's behavior or low academics. It's a bit overwhelming, especially for someone who is new to the district and is jumping in headfirst. I'm also not as experienced with behavioral interventions as other, more seasoned professionals. But, since I've had to write two Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) in the first 10 days of school (we were out of compliance with regulations) and have more behavior modification plans coming down the tubes, here are a few basic, beginning of the school year suggestions to address behavior difficulties. These may be well-understood classroom management techniques, but it never hurts to have a refresher!

- Put a daily schedule with class and homework on board. Ensure students understand and have written it in  agendas, if they use them. Outline each subject area lesson and set expectations for what will be required and how the lesson will run. This may increase compliance, especially when consistent.
- Provide strict guidelines/classroom rules and behavioral expectations. Reward and provide consequences immediately and consistently. Explain why a reward or consequence is being given in direct, understandable language. Stick to your guns regarding what you expect from students and they will be more likely to comply.
- Teach and model how to follow the classroom and school rules. Many times students do not understand what they are expected to do because they simply haven't been taught. Generate lists of ways to or behaviors that would be examples of following the rules. Engage in roleplays of appropriate rule following. Point out and praise students who are following classroom and school rules. Be explicit with identifying the behaviors that are correct. It may also be beneficial to teach and model examples of not following classroom and school rules.
- Remember the importance of proximity. Seat students who have difficulty controlling themselves, who are easily distracted, or who are frequently off-task near the source of instruction (i.e. the board or the teacher).
- Circle the room during instruction, rather than remaining solely at the board, in order to monitor students' attention and focus. Teach from various points in the room when the board is not necessary. Visit students' desks frequently during independent seatwork to ensure they are on-task and working appropriately.

Monday, September 13, 2010

School's out... and I'm stuck in the gym

It's only the fourth day of school and already my PM duty is starting to grind my gears. Every afternoon, I report to the gym to supervise students who wait there for their bus to arrive. There's about 40 PreK-8th grade students that wait in the gym for my assigned bus, and another 35 or so that wait for another bus on the other side of the gym. The gym itself is about the size of a run-down studio apartment. I am barely exaggerating. I know what you're thinking. "Aimee, why are you complaining? Having 70+ kids anxiously waiting for their four-wheeled ticket to freedom (which is always the LAST BUS to arrive) in a small, hot, loud stress chamber is a blast!" ...... I can't even make a witty, sarcastic retort for that, because that statement sums up the hell that is PM duty pretty darn well.

Regardless, as in all things, I try to find the positive: helping all the little lost Pre-K'ers find their way; watching an older "cool" girl hold the hands of two nervous kindergarteners on the walk to the bus; making a squirmy fourth grade boy who wanders and refuses to sit on the bench with the rest of the troupe sit in the middle of the gym floor to wait, then devising an incentive plan to help him keep his backside where it belongs (we're trying it tomorrow); getting waves and hugs from children I have never seen before; seeing that awkward middle school flirting hasn't changed since I was in school.

But by far the best experience I've had in PM duty thus far has involved M, a first grader with autism. M is a student who has a one-on-one aide throughout the school day to help keep him on task and keep him safe (he wanders, runs off without warning, and has difficulty navigating the stairs). Since the school year started, M has been without his aide, and has had random people filling in for parts of the day. Consistency and structure are hugely important for children with autism, and disruptions in their routine have the potential to be disastrous. M also reacts poorly to lots of commotion and noise. You may think that sitting in a gym with 70 other students would be a bad idea. You'd be right.

This particular day was very difficult for M. By the time dismissal came around, the woman who was his aide for the day had to leave to go to a doctor's appointment, so I volunteered to make sure M got on his bus safely. About the time I got M finally seated for more than 15 seconds (he repeatedly rolls on the floor), a little girl was dropped off in the gym and promptly starting crying because she was anxious to go home. I seated her next to M so that I could keep an eye on them both. M was quite startled to having a crying ball of Pre-K next to him, but turned to her looking quite concerned. What happened next made me all warm in my tummy. M started patting her forearm and wiping the tears from her cheeks with the crumpled paper towel she was holding. It was precious. And, for those of you who are familiar with autism know, children with autism can have great difficulty with social understanding, including interacting with peers and showing empathy, so to see M react to her in such a way was uncharacteristic and fantastic. Ahhh kids.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Testing, Testing

I've been exchanging phone calls with M, a psychologist from our Central Committee of Special Education (CSE) building, this week to arrange to pick up my test kits. See, probably the biggest part of being a school psychologist is conducting psycho-educational tests to determine if a child is eligible for special education services. These most often contain a cognitive test (read: IQ test; the "psycho" part) and an achievement, or educational, test. These measure a child's potential to learn (the cognitive) and what they actually have learned (the achievement). In traditional school psychology, if a student's cognitive ability, or their ability to learn, is not comparable to their actual achievement, their may be reason to suspect that they have an educational disability. So, if Sadie's IQ is 100 (the average standard score), while in math, reading, and writing she has standard scores below 70, it suggests that she is capable of learning at a typical rate, but that she has not achieved to the "average" level. This is called the discrepancy model, which is quickly being replaced with Response to Intervention (RTI), as per federal and state mandates. In the RTI model, students who are identified as struggling are engaged in targeted academic interventions in order to increase their skills before they fall low enough to qualify for special education. The whole discrepancy vs. RTI battle is something I could write about forever, so to spare you, there's information about the two models here at the LD Info website. You're welcome.

Anyhoo, I digress. Being a new psychologist in the district, I had no test kits available to me at my building. The psychologist who was previously in my spot took them all when she went to her new building. M called me this morning to say I could come over to another building in the district to get my test kits. Hooray! You must understand, getting test kits is like Christmas for school psychologists. New manuals to read, new manipulatives (read: toys) to test out, etc. They're like a security blanket, the one constant in the job that rarely changes and that we come back to day in and day out. Remember how I said I was a dork? Indeed.

When we spoke this morning, M suggested that I come early so that he could get some test kits that he had been saving specifically for me. After driving around the building block literally 5 times trying to figure out where to park (I still hate big city transportation drama), I finally get inside and find M. What blew my mind was the sheer lack of resources that were available. In the tiny stock room, there were many test kits that were extremely out of date, masses of test booklets but no way to score them, and very few kits of the tests used most frequently by psychologists. I couldn't decide if I was surprised by this. But, all of that aside, I should be very thankful that I got what I did, especially being a brand new psychologist and at the bottom of the feeding chain. I struggled back to my car with a few cognitive tests, behavior rating scales, and a visual-motor processing evaluation. Time to hunker down with my security blankets.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First Day Woes

Today was my first day at my building with kids. Three weeks of vacation after my summer job ended led to all sorts of jitters, planning, and shopping trips (NY & Company, Banana Republic, and Target... you're welcome). Last night, I had butterflies in my stomach like I did all those years ago waiting for the first day of school as a student. It's okay, I know I'm a big ol' dork... did we not establish that in my last post with the "I loved school" comment?

After some driving around to find parking this morning (yay working in the middle of a large city!), I pulled up in front of my school. With my cell phone all charged from the drive (yay sitting in traffic for 20 minutes trying to move .5 miles!) and my big ol' "teacher bag" all packed with materials and lunch, I stepped out of my car ready to face the day. And promptly locked my keys in my bag, in my car. Yep.

I began my morning with a 30 minute phone debacle with AAA, which caused me to miss my first day of AM duty at my post on the third floor, and subsequently seeing all those bright shining faces coming in for their first day of school. However, I had some more interesting news. Over the winter, someone stole my AAA "identity" and used my account when they ran out of gas. Even better, the check they used to pay for said fuel bounced, making it appear that I defaulted on payment. Oh, and my account expired three months ago, but I was never billed for it, so I didn't know it needed to be paid. Hooray! After shelling out the cost to open a new AAA membership (they wouldn't renew my old one due to the bad payment by my doppleganger), I was back in my car within an hour, and I was able to actually start my day. Thankfully, it went swimmingly, though of course was a little wacky due to normal first day of school craziness that will be ironed out soon.

The best part of my day? Returning to my office to see that a colleague had left a beautiful flower arrangement on my desk that my boyfriend had sent for my first day. Remember when I locked my keys in my car? Naaahh... me either.

So you counsel kids?

When I tell people I'm a school psychologist, I typically get one of three responses:

1. "Oh, so you're a counselor?" (No, but I do some counseling. I do not, however, plan your high schooler's schedule, set them up with scholarships, nor listen to their college entrance woes.)
2. "Oh no, don't psychoanalyze me!" (I am. Every day.)
3. "..........." (Blank stares are awkward, by the way.)

Dr. Branstetter of the marvelous blog Notes from the School Psychologist said it best: "...if a teacher and a child psychologist had a baby, it would be a school psychologist." School psychologists have all the marvelous knowledge of education, classroom management, behavior and academic interventions, and special education, but also tap into a vast wealth of fun facts regarding mental illness, treatment/therapy options, and child development. If we want to go by what the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) says (which we should, for they are our gods), school psychologists "help children achieve their best. In school. At home. In life." How they do that is anyone's game, and really goes by a child-by-child, school-by-school, district-by-district basis.

And then there's me. I grew up in a Western New York suburb that was about as white collar, mid- to upper-class, WASP-ville as it gets. I loved school. I was in the top 20 of a class of 600+ students, took 6 AP classes, bled extra-curriculars, and wanted more. I'm still trying to figure out how I ended up working with kids that hate school. I majored in Psychology at a small private school in the Southern Tier of NY state and was 2nd in the College of Arts & Sciences, then completed my Masters/Advanced Certificate back in Western NY. I graduated in June 2010 and ventured into the "real world."

I was lucky enough to not only have been hired in a terrible education job market (I can still hear the choirs singing behind the glorious sun rays and fluffy clouds), but also in one of my top districts. The catch...es?

-It's in one of the largest cities in WNY.
-It's a highly urban area.
-It's ethnically diverse (which I must stress is not a bad thing at all, just a bit foreign for WASP-y ol' me)
-My building is marked as "needing improvement" by the superintendent. (Read: low academic achievement and high levels of suspension-worthy shenanigans from the kids)

Maybe you're wondering why I'd want to work in a district that may seem to some to be something to steer 100mi clear from. I love a challenge, and these kids can be a challenge. Their lives are a challenge, and trying to get through to them is a challenge. It's a challenge for them to not only dream, but to reach their dreams and better their lives. But, with great challenge comes great reward, and that's what kids are... endlessly rewarding.

So, join me on my journey as I navigate the ins and outs of all the joys and pains that comes from being a new school psychologist in the world of education. In this blog, I hope to share anecdotes, blunders, cute kid sayings, advice, educational & psychological commentary, and who knows what other musings. Should be a blast!

Can you hear the singing too?