School psychologists do more than perhaps they’re given credit for. A news article, “Restorative Practices Quickly Cut Suspensions in Middle Schools,” featured on EdSource, is written by superintendent Paul Meyers of a Bakersfield, California middle school. He highlights a significant reduction in suspensions after the installation of a new program involving school psychologists and counselors.
The story reported in this article is evidence of the importance of school psychologists.
When Meyers was first welcomed as the superintendent of the middle school, he saw a need to reduce the number of suspensions in K-8th graders. He says,
In 2013, the number of student suspensions at our middle school was extremely high – over three times the state suspension rate. Budget cuts over several years had reduced the middle school administrative team and, with over 900 students in 6th and 8th grades, it was clear that the team was operating in survival mode. We needed to provide more support for students and staff and find a program that offered a long-term solution to address student misbehavior as well as guide future behavior.
Meyers was looking for something beyond a quick fix. The middle school already had a program called “Opportunity Class” or “Op” in place which essentially held misbehaving students in a classroom for a period where they were expected to silently do homework. Op was not successful in that the number of suspensions did not decrease while the program was in place.
With the help of administrators in another district which had a successful suspension reduction plan in place, Meyers and the school’s director of student services came up with an Alternative to Suspension [ATS] team.
[The team consists] of the site administration (principal and two assistant principals), a campus supervisor, school counselor, school psychologist, social work intern, and the ATS teacher (formerly the Op teacher).
The counselor and school psychologist had the role of teaching students to acknowledge and take responsibility for their behavior. Furthermore, the counselor and psychologist conducted role plays to help students prepare an apology to those who had been affected by their behavior.
The philosophy behind the ATS program originated in the criminal justice system.
Alternative to Suspension is based on restorative practices that originated in the criminal justice system as an alternative to punishment and incarceration. Adapted for use in schools, restorative practices [use] a set of principles and strategies to encourage students to accept responsibility for their behavior and repair any harm caused by their actions. The foundation of restorative practices is based on the core values of respect, inclusion, responsibility, empathy, honesty, openness and accountability.
School psychologists and counselors are there to do things with students as opposed to them or for them; based on an underlying concept that people are more likely to respond positively when an authority figure does things with them.
Meyers noticed an immediate success rate with a drastic decrease in suspensions. To be exact, there was a decrease of 55% from the implementation of ATS in August to the data gathered the following December.