By Johnny Jackson
Bonita Sims-Gude was a part of the crisis intervention team that helped Luella High School students cope, in September, with the sudden death of a student, who was a popular senior at the school.
"That was one of those heart-wrenching days," Sims-Gude said. "This young woman touched so many lives. Even if you didn't know her, you would have been touched by all of the good things that people had to say about her."
Sims-Gude says that, as school psychologist for Luella Middle and High schools, among the many duties of her job is counseling during times of crisis and mourning. But many are not fully aware that people like her even exist in schools.
This week has been designated by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) as "School Psychology Awareness Week," to bring public attention to the profession.
"I don't think they [the public] know the extent of the training for school psychologists," Sims-Gude said. "I don't think they know the level of training required for school psychologists."
School psychologists must be certified, or licensed specialists in psychology. That is, they must have certification beyond a master's degree level of education in school psychology.
"We are trained as interventionists, therapists, in psycho-educational testing ... ," she said. "We have different roles that we play."
So echoed Katherine Cowan, spokeswoman for the 39-year-old NASP. "School psychologists play an important role in schools," Cowan said. "One of our main focuses this year is the importance of resilience, the capacity we have to deal with things that are difficult."
The Henry County School System has 20 school psychologists for 44 schools. The Clayton County School System has 18, serving 59 schools. In each school system, nearly 1,000 students undergo psycho-educational evaluations yearly to help determine students' psychological needs in academic settings.
"Since there are so few of us, we are really the experts in a lot of different areas," said school psychologist, Mandy Condit.
School psychologists, she said, are responsible for the crisis-support and risk-assessment teams that aid in the student intervention process.
"We also do a lot of consultation - talking with parents, teachers, and administrators about students' needs," said Condit, also the coordinator of psychological services in Clayton.
"It might not be psychological evaluation, it might be intervention for that student to help them in school," she added. "I think that parents need to know that we are also there as a resource to schools."
School psychologists also evaluate students suspected of having learning disabilities or behavioral problems, said Danny Martin, a special education coordinator in Henry. He is in charge of the school psychology and emotional behavioral disorders program in Henry.
"We help instruct teachers on how to deal with student problems and how to identify students who may be depressed, have emotional distress, or learning problems," Martin said.
"Students have such a complex need today that it's very important that we have professionals who can evaluate the students' needs and be able to suggest what services the students need to be able to demonstrate what they need to demonstrate."
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