Changing lives: how school psychologists support children
This week is National School Psychology Awareness Week. Are you aware of the resources available to families by DCSD school psychologists? School Psychologist, Christopher Saiz (Legend High School, pictured left) talks about his role and what every family should know.
PARKER— They are often referred to as the “heart” of a school.
School psychologists, counselors and other mental health providers bring professional mental health expertise to our schools, providing an intimate knowledge of learning, development and behavior. They are unique in that they have expertise in both education and mental health. Working to support families, students, teachers and school staff, mental health providers enhance the academic and social climate of the school.
One of the goals of National School Psychology Awareness Week is to raise the profile of the profession and people who give so much for the safety and well being of students. School psychologists often operate under the radar, and their impact on schools may not always be explicitly visible to many teachers, parents and administrators.
Christopher Saiz is in his third year as a School Psychologist for Legend High School, and in his eighth year with Douglas County School District. He explains that the role of mental health providers is a diverse one.
“I meet with kids routinely, both general education students and students in special education. Sometimes the work is around self-advocacy, anxiety and things like that. Other times my work is broader, like career paths and goals,” he says. “We’re really about wellness, problem solving and building relationships.”
At Legend, Saiz and his colleagues use a Multi Tiered System of Supports— a prevention-based framework designed for the entire student-body for improving student outcomes on a broad, Universal Level, a more Targeted Level for a smaller group of children that require it, as well as an Intensive Level for an even smaller, more targeted group of children that need the most intensive level of support.
“We broadly build wellness for all kids; then, as kids have more significant needs, we work to fill those gaps,” Saiz says.
One of the ways Legend works to touch every student is through “Titan Time,” regularly scheduled time used to deliver content regarding mental health, wellness and life skills.
“Many of these lessons have to do with knowing signs that you might need help or that a friend might need help,” Saiz says. “We try to normalize life by explaining that life is mostly great, but life involves struggle. There are times in struggle that you need to have a sense of when you should talk to somebody. We also talk about how you can reach out for help here at Legend. All of our kids know this and it’s also regularly displayed on hallway TV’s.”
It’s the freedom to lead and utilize their expertise, Saiz says, that makes Douglas County and Legend High School a great place to work as a school psychologist.
“In Douglas County, I think we have good leaders that understand what mental health providers and school psychologists bring to the table, and in our schools we are given the freedom to create that,” he says. “For example, I believe in a psychology that teaches us to be well. We certainly engage in solving problems like anxiety, depression or conflict. But broadly, for me, I believe in a positive psychology that teaches us how to live well, and I have the freedom to bring that to my work here at Legend— to implement wellness strategies to prevent kids from getting to that level of anxiety or depression. So DCSD leaders count on us to know the needs of our building and then unfold a plan within the school for kids to be well.”
The more challenging times that school mental health providers face is when there is a tragic incident that can emotionally impact an entire school. In these times, DCSD’s Crisis Team is activated to provide support for school psychologists to meet the needs of students.
“Through the years we have developed a wisdom and important protocols for handling serious situations,” Saiz says. “On our crisis team, we’ll talk through which kids may be affected by an incident. In times like these it’s important to rely on the expertise we bring as school psychologists.”
“On a more personal level, we know that grief will unfold for different people in different ways; it’s different for a mom and dad coping with loss than it is for a friend or classmate,” he says. “We try to be mindful of that continuum of support that is needed and then provide that for students to process. We support that process of struggle so people can find their way through grief.”
Ultimately, Saiz wants parents, teachers and administrators to know that talking with a mental health provider should never be seen as something unusual or as a problem, but that it’s an immense privilege.”
“It recognizes that life does involve challenge and it’s such an honor and privilege to learn from and talk with someone to gain perspective and learn about yourself and grow,” he says. “That’s more how I see this work, rather than something’s wrong with us. It’s embracing our humanity. It’s about growth.”
“I want parents to know more than anything that we want to partner with them to see their kids do well, to realize the amazing potential they have,” he explains. “We want to be in their court. We want to advocate for them and their students. We recognize that sometimes that journey is challenging but we are committed to staying the course by working through conflict or trying to understand each other so that we create an amazing community and that they feel their kid is important to us and gets every possible resource they need to do well.”