As the school doors open across West Virginia this August, approximately 277,000 children and adolescents will enter into our public schools. Many of them will return to school with memories of an idyllic summer, including perhaps a week at the beach, a special camping trip, a vacation with a treasured grandparent, or simply the luxury of free time. Other students, however, will be stepping through our doors with what conceivably amounted to the most tumultuous, loss-filled summer of their early lives.
The majority of the children and adolescents coping with loss are recovering from the severe storms in late June. In terms of scope of impact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports more than eight thousand West Virginia families and businesses applied for disaster assistance through their agency and 6,500 individuals pursued support at one of the Disaster Recovery Centers. While the statistics reflect those directly impacted, they do not adequately enumerate the number of children and families who continue to experience the indirect effects of the natural disaster, such as a school change, a job loss, the loss of a social support network, or the emotional toll of witnessing their communities ravaged by the flood waters.
The flooding inspired a call to action for many in our profession. Collectively, the West Virginia School Psychologists Association (WVSPA) members provided financial support to two fellow school psychologists who lost homes and belongings in the June flooding. Other WVSPA and student members, provided direct flood relief to children and families. For area school psychologists, their work will continue next week as Kanawha County and other neighboring districts reopen. School psychology practitioners and related school staff, at this time, will have the opportunity evaluate student level needs and determine which children are naturally rebounding from the events without any additional supports aside from basic information, reassurance, an established routine. This assessment will allow school mental health professionals to target those students exhibiting heightened signs of trauma and/or personal vulnerabilities for group counseling and more individualized supports, as appropriate.
Given the magnitude of the disaster and the socioeconomics of the devastated communities, the rebuilding process will be lengthy. Consequently, I encourage WVSPA to consider how we might individually and collectively assist in the long-term rebuilding efforts. Although a variety of service activities (e.g., fundraising, sponsorship, home repairs) will certainly benefit families in need, I similarly challenge our more veteran practitioners to engage their early career counterparts in mentor / mentee relationships and resource sharing. Such collaboration will be invaluable to the first and second year practitioners, particularly those who are the sole school psychological providers in three of the most extensively damaged districts including the county incurring the most fatalities.
As an association, the WVPSA executive board members will be working to gather and post crisis prevention and intervention resources on our website, as well as other risk assessment materials for use across the state. Over the 2016-2017 school year, one of our association’s goal is to strengthen the overall amount of resources on the website for member use in the schools. Please email any resources you wish to share on our website to Christina Hare (firstname.lastname@example.org)or Holly Yoke (email@example.com). If you have any information you wish to share in our newsletter, it can be emailed it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toward the same end, WVSPA will focus half of the fall and spring conference professional development sessions on our vulnerable populations in West Virginia. On October 24, Lynne Muller, Ph.D., will present on supporting LGBTQ youth in the schools. Dr. Muller is the student support specialist for The Breakthrough Center at the Maryland State Department of Education. Lynne is a recent recipient of the Woman of the Year Award in Maryland for her efforts in advancing supports and equity for LGBTQ youth. Other fall sessions will target the needs of medically fragile students, specifically those diagnosed with pediatric cancer, and children with trauma exposure. (We hope to release the fall conference brochure for October 24-25, 2016 at Canaan Valley Resort shortly!). Finally, please mark your calendars for April 27-28, 2017. Dr. Ross Greene will be the keynote presenter in Charleston, West Virginia and he will discuss Changing the Conversation about Behaviorally Challenging Kids http://www.livesinthebalance.org/ We are also thrilled to have Dr. Steven G. Feifer on the second day of that information packed conference! We look forward to seeing you in October!