Education

School psychologists of the future can thank Brandman faculty members for advancing their field

November 14, 2017 by Cindy O'Dell

It’s been 20 years since the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) looked at the requirements and standards for the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) credential. In assembling a workgroup of experts from across California, the state tapped three Brandman professors for their expertise and perspectives.

Assigned to various aspects of the workgroup are full-time faculty members Thierry Kolpin, Ph.D., and Pedro Olvera, Psy.D., and adjunct faculty member Maureen Schroeder. They and others will shape the standards for universities and colleges training school psychologists, school counselors, school social workers and child welfare and attendance specialists in K-12 schools, all of whom require a PPS credential to work in California.

Kolpin is part of the group looking at the standards for school counseling. Olvera and Schroeder are part of the school psychologist workgroup.

Pedro Olvera
Assistant Professor Pedro Olvera leads the EdS in School Psychology program.

Because School Psychologist Awareness Week is Nov. 13-17, this seemed like the perfect time to check in with Olvera and Schroeder about their work on both the commission and with future school psychologists earning their degrees at Brandman.

In addition to their work with the CTC, Olvera is the president of the California Association of School Psychologists. Schroeder is the California delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

Both have extensive experience working in schools as school psychologists. Schroeder works full time for the Elk Grove Unified School District in addition to teaching graduate students at the Modesto campus. Olvera has a private practice and consults with school districts.

Why work on credentials?

The chance to work on new standards is both an honor and a passion.

Maureen Schroeder
Maureen Schroeder is an adjunct faculty member and a school psychologist in Elk Grove, California.

The CTC puts out a call to the entire state for applications to be part of the workgroup. Although 25 universities in California have school psychology programs, about six are represented in the workgroup, making Brandman’s contributions all the more important. The rest of the group is made up of practitioners endorsed by their schools, organizations or parent groups.

Approval of a school psychology program by the CTC guides how universities recruit and pursue new students. “It outlines how school psychology programs will function in the next 20 years or so, which is very exciting,” said Olvera.

Schroeder said she thought her qualifications wouldn’t measure up. “I had to apply. I’m on the board of the state association and we were all encouraged to apply. We wanted to make sure there were enough school psychologists on there,” she said. So, she was surprised to be chosen, even more so when her mentor, Dr. Brent Duncan from Humboldt State University, turned out to be a fellow member of the workgroup.

What’s their focus?

For Schroeder, the workgroup gives her the opportunity to make sure the state is working toward the NASP Practice Model so that graduates of programs in California also meet the national standards. It gives her the chance to advocate for all school psychologists.

In addition to her focus on aligning with national standards, Schroeder said she wants the group to address the shortage of school psychologists. “It’s important to continue to support the graduate programs that we have,” she said.

Although interested in the overall standards, Olvera said he wants to make sure the new standards include how to work with English language learners, a major focus of his career. Those working toward a credential in school psychology in California “need to understand the nuances of language and culture and how they blend and influence learning,” he said. Not understanding that can lead to an underestimation of mental capacity.

Both also emphasize the need for the public to understand that school psychologists are trained and capable of doing much more than administer tests.

“We do counseling, behavioral intervention. We respond to crises. We have the skills to do program evaluation and academic consultation as well,” said Olvera, adding that licensed marriage and family therapy psychologists often see that as their role. “Unfortunately, we get boxed into one tiny area – assessment. It’s a frustration in the field that we’re not always called to exercise everything we can do. It’s a bit of a turf war.”

“We take care of our students’ mental health needs and learning needs,” said Schroeder, who would like to see more emphasis placed on neuropsychology (the student of the relationship between behavior, emotion and cognition as it relates to brain function) and executive function (the umbrella term for mental control and self-regulation) so that more attention is paid to how students learn.

Why a school psychologist week?

Building more awareness about the roles school psychologists should and can play within a school setting is a particular focus of Schroeder this week when she’ll be reaching out to community college students in the hopes of spurring their interest in becoming school psychologists.

“I talk about what I do, about Brandman. I let them know what programs we have locally,” she said. “I tell them it’s a way to do something worthwhile.”

Brandman’s program has already added many of the components that are being discussed for the state standards, said Olvera. New this year are the opportunity for students to choose among three new areas of emphasis for the Education Specialist Degree in School Psychology: Applied behavior analysis, a growing specialization; autism, with an emphasis on how to intervene and work with families; or California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) with an emphasis on culture, intervention and the theory of language. All are getting special attention from the CTC workgroup as well.

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