While many students are out of school for the summer, there is still a need for school psychologists. WDBJ7 surveyed divisions across southwest Virginia asking how many psychologists were in schools. Every single one that answered has numbers far below national recommendations.
In Floyd County they call Heidi Hawkins the "bag lady." She carries a briefcase and shoulder bag full of files as the only full time school psychologist in the county dedicated to testing for special needs and counseling students.
"We have really adapted to just having one school psychologist for that many students and really operating as a team here in Floyd," she says.
She's accompanied by Josie Loomis, the director of special education for Floyd Schools and also a psychologist, but it's Hawkins who is out everyday meeting with students. Even in the summer.
"It still stretches very thin we cause we really only have one [psychologist] for that job to do the evaluations and counseling," she says.
With 1,999 students and two school psychologists, Floyd Schools falls short of the ratio recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists. It wants one for every 500 to 700 students in each division. But a survey of all the divisions in the WDBJ7 viewing area shows no school system meets that benchmark. Floyd County comes closest. Others have one psychologist to monitor thousands of students. And all school systems with fewer than a thousand students don't have any psychologists on staff.
"I don't think anybody has any real answers to that because the budget just restricts a school so much right now," she says. "And all of us understand that. And our primary focus when we're getting together is how do we work given what we have."
In Alleghany County outside Covington, Leslie Wright and her son Gavin feel the strain of a lack of mental health professionals in schools. Gavin has autism and a behavioral disorder. He doesn't feel comfortable explaining his feelings with teachers.
"I always had like this worst case scenario type feeling," Gavin recalls. "If it's with the teacher, he'll probably yell at me."
His mom has been concerned this past school year, the first year since Gavin was diagnosed with autism. In Alleghany County, there's one psychologist for more than two thousand students. In Covington, there isn't any.
"He needs someone that is checking up and following through with what he needs to be doing," says Leslie Wright.
With so many schools falling short of the national benchmark, is there any way to improve the ratio? The NASP says yes.
"What we have been increasingly seeing the last couple years are schools and districts recognizing the importance of mental health services and early intervention and so they've made it a priority to slowly and incrementally work toward meeting that ratio," says director of government relations for NASP, Kelly Vaillancourt.
|District||# of Students||# of FT psychologists||Ratio|
WDBJ7 will update this table as more divisions give us its data.