Atlanta Public Schools school psychologists work with students, educators, and families to support the academic achievement, positive behavior, and mental wellness of all students, especially those who struggle with barriers to learning.
Every year, in recognition of National School Psychologist Week, APS’ Psychological Services department presents the School Psychologist of the Year award. Last year, the award went to lead school psychologist Jaceta Fevrier.
As she prepared to pass the torch to this year’s Psychologist of the Year winner Mia Hunt, Fevrier shared her insights into the vital role school psychologists play in APS schools.
Q: What do school psychologists provide for students?
A: We offer a variety of services to support students in their learning and development. We offer behavioral consultations to teachers and families. We offer counseling and behavior support to students. We also offer consultations when it comes to academics. But our main role in the district would be to conduct evaluations for special education services. If a student is struggling academically or behaviorally, we are trained to use specific tools to identify what those struggles are and see if those students would meet the criteria for special education services. More specifically, students who may be on the autism spectrum disorder can get evaluated by us and receive services. Students who may have ADHD or learning disabilities like dyslexia could potentially get services. We are one of the main team members who conduct these evaluations, and we also give recommendations for the plans to help the students excel in their education.
Q: How does access to a school psychologist impact a student’s experience?
A: School is a place where kids come to learn. If there are learning problems, that can make school a very difficult place to be for six hours a day. Having a team of people that can work with students to identify what those issues are, help resolve them so that school can be more enjoyable, and remove the barriers to their learning helps a lot.
On the mental health side, one of the reasons I became a school psychologist is because kids have to go to school. That’s almost immediate access. I don’t have to worry about insurance companies having to pay or access. I can go and pick them up from their classroom. Thankfully, as a school psychologist, I’m not the only member of a team that supports a student’s mental health. We have school social workers. We have school counselors. We have other support team members who work with behaviors more specifically. But as a team, we have the privilege to work with students where they are for the majority of their day in school.
Q: What was a memorable moment you’ve had in APS?
A: Last year, I was working with a student at Brandon Elementary. I was doing his evaluation, and when I finished it was time for me to give his feedback session. I drew a little picture of a brain, and gave little diagrams about the things that he’s good at and I told him the things that he would need help with. I gave him a pop quiz and said ‘OK. This is what you need to tell your teacher.’ I ended up talking to his mom later that day and she told me that he 100% remembered everything that I said to him. He was maybe like 8 or 9 and he was able to tell his mother his strengths, weaknesses, the things he needed help with, and how he can ask for help. He was really excited about that. The fact that I got the opportunity to empower such a young person who was having some troubles but not focused on the trouble. The focus was on his strengths, and he felt empowered that he could do something about it. That was one of the many rewarding experiences that I’ve had.
Q: What are some misconceptions about school psychologists?
A: A lot of times when people hear school psychologists, they immediately think of therapy and mental health support. And while we do those things, a lot of those things are done by our school social workers and counselors, which we would not be able to survive without them. Our major heavy lift is when we are looking at children with developmental learning and behavioral challenges. That’s where most of our time goes. It’s still a very important role, but it’s a little bit different. We still support the mental and behavioral health of our students, but so much of our job is identifying those students who may have challenges and working to remove those barriers so that they can be successful in their educational journeys.
Q: What has APS done to help manage the case load for school psychologists?
A: Some of the ways that we try to mitigate that are through things such as case load equalization. Being able to level the playing field a little bit so some of our more tapped out school psychologists can have some relief and also free them up to do other things that they may like to do such as support the mental and behavioral health of students. Another thing that we’ve been doing is working hard at recruitment. Currently, there’s 37 of us and we support almost 90 schools. Ideally, we’d like to have a ratio of 1:500. I think right now we’re at 1:1,500, which is down.
APS has done a really amazing job at supporting our recruitment efforts. When I first came here in 2018, I think we had maybe 25 school psychologists. So just within a few years, we’ve been able to add more to that. Again, because we work with teams of people being able to be consultants to most teams when it comes to supporting the emotional, mental and behavioral health of students, being able to work with social workers and counselors and teachers who are usually on the front lines, of course if we had more of us then we’d be able to provide more comprehensive services and really spend more time in these things, which is needed as well, but because we’re spread so thin, us identifying learning disabilities and other challenges that’s a requirement by law nobody else can do. We’re the only people that can do that. We have other members who can help with the other part, but we’ve been to national conferences to recruit. We have a lot of interns. We work with Georgia State to get interns to help fulfill our shortages, we have practicum students, and we try to be as visible in the community as possible because addressing the shortage is going to help a lot overall with the behavioral, mental and academic health of students. Especially those who are struggling with things that maybe a little beyond their control.