Alum Returns as School Psychologist

Alum Returns as School Psychologist, Shares Love for Helping Kids
Posted on 10/29/2021

Alum Returns as School Psychologist, Shares Love for Helping Kids

After graduating from Ponderosa High School in 1994, Rochelle Evans returned to the Douglas County School District (DCSD) in 2006. She now works as a school psychologist at Gold Rush Elementary in the same town where she grew up. We caught up with Evans for a glimpse at what it has been like to work in her hometown community.

What was it like to come back to DCSD?
It was really exciting! After my husband and I got married, we moved back to Parker. That’s where I grew up. It felt like home. It’s nice to be back.

One thing that is fun about coming back to Douglas County is you get to see the kids of some of your high school friends. I’ve had a couple of meetings where the parents show up, and I’m like, “Oh! I know this person. I graduated with them.” Just having that connection is really fun. Usually, someone will know who you know, and it makes a big district feel much smaller.

I also like talking with kids about other schools in the area or about what Parker used to look like and how things were. It was much different back when I was a student. That opens up new conversations with students about where they live and go to school.

How did you end up becoming a school psychologist?
I didn’t even know it was a real job! After graduation, I went to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do and ended up getting my teaching license. I taught preschool and kindergarten up in Greeley for a while. When I was student teaching during my first year, this little kid kept coming into my classroom and ducking under the desk. This lady would always come, coax him out, talk to him, and he’d leave with her. He was fine. I was like, “I want that job!” So I taught for a while as I went to the University of Colorado Denver to become a school psychologist.

What kind of education do you need to become a school psychologist?
At the time, it was a three-year graduate program. Since I was teaching at the same time and working at a restaurant at night, it took me six years to get through.

How would you differentiate your position from something like a school counselor or a school social worker?
I think the one thing that sets school psychologists apart is cognitive testing. I try to dig a little deeper into what’s going on in a kid’s brain to figure it out. Counselors do such a good job of incorporating the whole school, and social workers are crucial to getting the whole family involved. Everyone here has their own specialties. School psychologists just take a more individualized and clinical approach to learning difficulties.

How do you usually begin working with a child?
Sometimes a parent or teacher will give me a referral, but it’s usually pretty obvious when a kid is struggling. One of my duties is to work the front door, so I get to know a lot of the kids in the building. When I notice something might be going on, I try to get to know the kid better. That might mean sitting down in the hallway with them, if that’s where they are comfortable, or bringing them to my office. I typically start playing a game with them so we can begin connecting. I explain to them that it’s my job to work with kids on feelings. Then I ask, “What do you think you need to work on?” or something similar. And we begin talking.

Is there anything kids are struggling with more this year than before?
I feel like there is always anxiety at school, but this year there’s just so much more from teachers and from kids. There’s a lot of school refusal, just anxiety coming into school because everyone was at home for so long. It feels like a lot to come every single day, all day long. Some kids are doing great and some are really struggling. I think that by collaborating with the school counselor here, we can help make sure we’re taking care of the staff and kids at the same time.

Going back to Ponderosa High School, what was your favorite memory?
It feels like it was a long time ago! The one thing that really sticks out to me was the Powderpuff football game my senior year in 1994. It was so fun! It was like a Thursday afternoon, and we were playing outside, knowing it was our last year together. There was a little bit of competition, but it was always fun. I don’t even remember who won! It was just a beautiful day, and it is one of my best memories from high school.

Was there anything in high school that prepared you for where you are today?
When I was going to high school, I also tutored at Parker Junior High (now Sierra Middle School). I think that’s where I got my love for working with kids and in education. I also remember taking a psychology class with Mr. T. It was my favorite class! It was so fun to learn about the different diagnoses and the things that are going on in people’s heads that you don’t always see. When I graduated from college, I had a minor in psychology. I think that love and interest started in high school.

How have you been supporting other staff members at Gold Rush Elementary?
I think our staff at Gold Rush Elementary is really awesome. It’s like a family. I have a couple of friends who live by themselves and during the pandemic, we were checking on each other a lot. Now, we try to get together for craft nights and spend time together outside of school.

How can the school best support a kid’s mental health?
I think it’s all about finding things that work for that individual. Every kid is so different and they think so differently. We can help them at school within these four walls. But when they go home, sometimes there is a lot of parent support, and at other times there is not. The tricky part is finding something that works for them both here and at home. It means we really partner with parents to make sure there is good follow-through, that we’re bookending the kid. It means using the same strategies and language together. The kid needs to know that they are supported at home and school. Just making sure we’re keeping the kid surrounded with communication and support.

Do you have a feel-good moment from this school year?
I still hear from kids I worked with who have left Gold Rush Elementary and have gone on to middle school. I was so worried, but they’ve progressed leaps and bounds, and I’m so proud of them. They did not want to be at school in elementary school, and now I love hearing how happy they are. Knowing that my work is making a difference helps me keep pushing because what I do matters in these kids’ lives.

Thanks, Rochelle! Good luck with the rest of the school year!
You bet!

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