For Child, Family, and School Psychology alumna Dr. DoriAnn Adragna, work is family business. Adragna and her husband, Joe, a family medicine physician, formed Peak Professionals in their hometown of Montrose, Colorado. Through their joint practice, they can help not only the whole child but the whole family navigate injuries and behavioral struggles together. They noticed one injury in particular affected both of their practices and was also possibly preventable – traumatic brain injuries. Then while at a skate park in Montrose, they noticed many of the children were not wearing helmets.

Dr. Dori’s specialty is in pediatric traumatic brain injuries. While at Morgridge College of Education, she specialized in traumatic brain injury and autism spectrum disorders.  She and her husband decided to take action to prevent traumatic brain injuries in their own community. In 2016, they were awarded two grants totaling $30,000 from the Colorado Brain Injury Program. One of the grants was specifically used to prevent these injuries and helped produce the HeadSTRONG program, a helmet awareness campaign designed to increase helmet usage amongst individuals on Colorado’s Western Slope.

The campaign targeted youths and encouraged them to be STRONG, to stand up to peer pressure, and to wear a helmet. Individuals who signed up and pledged to be HeadSTRONG were entered in a contest to win a helmet and everyone who made the pledge could receive a discount at local vendors to purchase a helmet.

“In my practice, I work with families who have been affected by traumatic brain injuries and I help them mourn the loss of the child they once thought they were going to have,” said Dr. Dori. “It’s a grieving and acceptance process, and it changes goals parents have for their children, it changes their perception of their child’s future.”

Through the HeadSTRONG program, a total of 73 individuals pledged to wear a helmet, over 40 helmets were given to adults and children, and information on the importance of wearing a helmet was distributed and embraced by the community through events, local organizations, and press releases. The campaign was so successful that the City of Montrose is trying to get funding to keep the campaign going into the next year.

“The initial grant period is over,” Dr. Dori explained. “But we want to continue this and we are working with our local government to make that happen. Eventually we would love to expand to include all traumatic brain injuries, not only pediatric.”

Libby Malone, Child, Family & School Psychology (CFSP) alumna (EdS ’15) is featured in the Career Spotlight of this month’s National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Early Career Professionals Digest. Malone works for the Denver Public Schools at West Early College in Denver, CO. She is versed in teaching mindfulness to students in classroom settings, using culturally responsive interventions and assessments, and strives to explain assessment results in parent-friendly language.

In the interview below, which originally appeared on the NASP Communities website, Malone talks about her first-year challenges and gives advice to professionals entering the field.

Where do you work?
I work as a school psychologist for Denver Public Schools at West Early College, a 6th-12th grade innovation school. My school is in a large old high school building and we share the campus with two other schools, another 6th-12th grade program and a 17-21 year old program for students who are behind on credits.

What are your areas of expertise at this point in your career?
At this point in my career I feel confident explaining assessment results in parent friendly language, teaching mindfulness to students in a classroom setting, and using culturally responsive interventions and assessments for families and students.

What challenges have you faced in your early career, and how have you handled them?
A challenge that I faced during my first year of practice, and am still working on, is managing anxiety. During my graduate program my professors touched on self-care and mentioned the need for leaving work at work, but it wasn’t something that we discussed in depth. During my internship, I felt confident in my abilities as an independent practitioner. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time with my supervisor and relied on her more as I think it may have eased some of the anxiety I experienced during my first year.

The anxiety started right before the school year when I experienced my first panic attack. I became cold, but sweaty and my heart raced while a feeling a complete dread washed over me. For the next two months I struggled to sleep at night as I would catastrophize every negative outcome that could happen to my students. I worked in an urban, Title I school with students who had experienced trauma and the effects of poverty. My school also had a center for students with Serious Emotional Disabilities so I had students who were challenging behaviorally with some severe case histories along with all of my other students, many of whom had high levels of social emotional needs, as well. I would be fine during the day, I did my job effectively and managed student needs with confidence; however, I would go home and question everything I had done, what I could have missed, if I was an imposter, etc. The panic attack that I had experienced in the summer became an almost nightly ritual and I was exhausted physically and emotionally before we made it to Thanksgiving Break.

As the year went on I began to reach out to my colleagues and friends more, exercise regularly, and tried therapy. While the anxiety would still flare up, whether from a hard day or from the fear that since I wasn’t currently anxious I must have missed something, I had fewer of the sleepless nights and all-consuming feelings of dread.

What advice do you have for other early career school psychologists?
My advice for other early career school psychologists is to lean in to your support networks. You are not alone with the weight of your work. Personally, I have school counselors and a school social worker that I work closely with. Debriefing, sharing tasks, and sometimes just venting with them has made me a better practitioner along with decreasing my anxiety about being solely responsible for anything that happens to our students. During that first year I wish I had felt more comfortable opening up to my friends from graduate school about how I was feeling, but I was ashamed of my inability to control my own emotions when my entire job focused on helping students learn to control theirs. In my second year, I have opened up to my friends and we use each other as sound boards around interventions, assessments, and more. I now realize that many of them had the same worries and experiences I did and I had nothing to feel ashamed about.

Something else that has helped me this year is reminding myself that although my job is important and I am a necessary part of my student’s school day, if I have advocated for their needs, reported safety concerns, and addressed any immediate issues presented to me, I have to be okay with the job I have done for the day. It is unfair to my fiancé, who is also a school psychologist, and myself to go home and catastrophize about every student I interacted with that day. I am responsible for supporting them during the school day and making sure they are safe, but I cannot feel responsible for everything that happens in their lives outside of my sphere of influence with them. I still have a hard time convincing myself of this fact, but it has increased my ability to sleep at night and function during the weekends exponentially.

I am great at promoting coping skills and self-care to my colleagues and families. Learning to use those skills myself has been challenging, but I know I am getting better and becoming a more effective school psychologist through this practice.

How has your NASP membership benefited you?
My NASP membership has benefited me by allowing me access to more resources for my students and my practice. I appreciate the early career emails, the member exchange digest, and the reduced prices offered on conventions, conferences, and many other resources available for purchase. I know that NASP recognizes me as an early career school psychologist and understands the financial strains that we may face and offering a reduced price membership has made it possible for me to keep my membership current.

Students from the Child, Family, and School Psychology (CFSP) program—under the mentorship of faculty member Gloria Miller, Ph.D.—have been working with the Colorado African Organization (CAO) to connect with refugee families who have settled in Colorado.

The students and CAO Community Navigators assist refugee families in adapting to and succeeding in the American education system. School-based issues that the families have encountered include religious dietary restrictions conflicting with school lunch menus, expectations about parental involvement, trauma and mental health, language barriers, and education gaps due to prior unstable living situations.

The partnership enables students to obtain experience working with diverse communities and helps them become more well-rounded practitioners while providing newcomer families with tools and resources to thrive. Due to a rising population of refugees and asylum-seekers in the United States and Colorado, services such as those that CAO provide and the involvement of students who are training to serve these populations are becoming increasingly important.

This story is featured in our 2016 Dean’s Report, which you can read in its entirety here.

Recent Child, Family, and School Psychology program graduate Brittany Greiert focused her academic research and dissertation on sex and relationship education for individuals with autism, a topic that has seen little research or development of guidelines until recently.

Prior to enrolling at the Morgridge College of Education (MCE), Greiert worked with a nonprofit reproductive health organization and noticed the lack of resources available for individuals with disabilities. This inspired Greiert to continue her education in order to address the resource gap, and she chose MCE because of the college’s support of her research interests. Greiert says that historically there have been extremely limited resources for comprehensive sexual education for those with autism, and that while there has been progress in the past few years, there are few guidelines on the topic.

Her work has led to a variety of opportunities for collaboration and sharing in the community and on a national level; in 2015, she collaborated with a colleague at Emerge: Professionals in Autism, Behavior, and Personal Growth to present a workshop at the Autism Society of Colorado titled “What happens in Vegas…Autism Style! Sex, dating, and intimacy.” Nationally, Greiert presented her findings on data, resources, and gaps in research at the 2016 National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) annual conference.

Greiert’s dissertation research resulted in the development of the Guidelines for the Development of Sexuality Education Curricula for High Functioning Adolescent Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The guidelines are intended to be used as a tool to guide future sex education curriculum development, address the unique needs of students with autism, and provide suggestions to modify existing curricula so that their needs are met. Furthermore, the guidelines function as an advocacy tool to increase awareness of the unique needs of high-functioning students with autism.  Greiert says that being proactive in creating a structured approach and presentation of information would be of huge benefit to individuals with autism as well as to school psychologists and parents of children with autism.

MCE Child, Family, & School Psychology alum, Dr. Melissa Reeves, was recently elected to serve as President of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) for 2016-17. Dr. Reeves, an adjunct instructor for Winthrop University and a pre K-12 school psychologist, is a two time recipient of the NASP Presidential award (2006 & 2011). She has received numerous other accolades including the NASP Crisis Interest Group Award for Excellence (2007 & 2011), the Cheery Creek School District Golden Heart Award (2006) and the University of Denver, College of Education Leadership in Learning Alumni Award (2006).

Dr. Reeves has conducted more than 200 workshops and presentations and works with schools on establishing a positive and safe school climate that focuses on prevention programs and positive discipline measures to decrease behavioral incidences while increasing academic achievement. As the co-creator of the NASP PPREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention curriculum, she developed the first nationally disseminated school crisis prevention and intervention curriculum. She is also an accomplished author, having co-authored three books: School Crisis Prevention and Intervention: The PREPaRE Model; Identifying, Assessing, and Treating PTSD at School; and Comprehensive Planning for Safe Learning Environments: A School Professional’s Guide to Integrating Physical and Psychological Safety: Prevention through Recovery, in addition to co-authoring numerous journal articles and book chapters.

We are proud of NASP President, Dr. Melissa Reeves, and all of her accomplishments.

 

A morning advocating for additional support for children with autism, to an evening dinner networking with some of the great thinkers in the field of School Psychology. This was a day in the life of Brittany Sovran and Jessica S. Reinhardt at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Annual Convention.  The highlight, however, was the two students’ attendance at the Woodcock-Muñoz Foundation’s Dinner. For the first time in the history of the Woodcock-Muñoz Foundation’s Dinner event at the NASP Annual Convention, students were nominated by faculty to attend.

The Woodcock-Muñoz Foundation (WMF) is a private, nonprofit, operating foundation that supports the advancement of contemporary cognitive assessment. The WMF engages in programs of instructional support to professional preparation programs, research concerning the abilities of individuals with diagnosed exceptionalities, and closely-related educational and research projects and applications.

Child, Family and School Psychology faculty members, Dr. Karen Dittrick-Nathan and Dr. Cynthia Hazel, who were invited to the dinner event, nominated Brittany Sovran and Jessica Reinhardt for the honor of attendance. The two University of Denver students were then selected by the event’s planning committee to attend.

Both Jessica and Brittany took the conference as an opportunity to network and advocate for their agenda.  Earlier in the conference they visited Colorado Senator Mark Udall (D) to advocate for additional funding for mental health in school. Jessica shared that the event, “was a great opportunity to meet a variety of professionals in the field, including faculty from other universities, and those highly regarded in the area of test development.” Both students stressed that the opportunity to form relationships with potential mentors from other institutions, could prove beneficial for learning additional techniques for educating and training school psychologists.

Jessica emphasized that it is life changing to meet the frontrunners in test development at various moments of the conference. “This event [WMF dinner], specifically at this conference inspired me to pursue a career in academia.” Jessica describes herself as both an academic and practitioner, and although she wants to continue working at the grassroots level, her appreciation for having a more systemic impact by training school psychologists is even greater. She shares that “in the future, I can now see myself in a faculty position at a university, where having a greater impact is possible.”

The Faculty in the Child, Family and School Psychology Program encouraged all Morgridge College of Education students attending the conference to speak with legislators who can influence change on a variety of issues affecting child, family, and school psychologists in Colorado. The CFSP program provides students the foundation to not only be Change Agents and advocates in the field but also highly competent, collaborative, ethical and self-reflective scientist-practitioners.  To learn more about the program and the Morgridge College of Education, visit www.du.edu/education.

Child, Family, and School Psychology alumna, Rachel Wonner Kersteins, is 1 of 15 national semi-finalists for the Health Mart Champions of Care Challenge. Kerstiens volunteers with the organization Girls on the Run, which is an after school running program that engages girls from Grade 3-8.  The program focuses on  teaching girls to embrace difference and celebrate their individual voices through healthy and active practices.

Kerstiens work has earned her a nomination as an unsung community hero. Associated with this nomination was a $1,000 grant that was donated to her Charity of choice; Girls on the Run. There is a $50,000 grant to be donated by Health Mart to the organization, however the winner will be chosen by a vote.

Support CFSP alumna, Rachel Kersteins and “Girls on the Run” by voting: www.healthmartcommunity.com.

The original story was covered on Channel 9 news: http://www.9news.com/story/sports/2014/03/20/denver-nonprofit-grant/6646465/ 

Natalia BlogHaving been invited to interview only a few weeks earlier, I arrived in Denver feeling very anxious.  This was my first in-person graduate school interview and I was feeling apprehensive about having to distinguish myself from the other applicants in a single day.  I was staying with a friend close to campus and we walked over to Ruffatto Hall the evening before so I would know where to go the next morning.  I was blown away by the beauty of the building and could imagine spending hours reading and writing papers in the many study nooks around the building.  I went to bed early that night, hoping to get a good night’s sleep.

After a breakfast buffet and time to mingle with current and prospective students, the day’s program started.  My two interviews were both scheduled for the afternoon, so I spent the morning learning about financial aid and inclusive excellence.  My thoughts were preoccupied by the interviews and this made it difficult to focus on the presenters.  During lunch, we were able to ask a panel of current students questions about the program.  Hearing their firsthand perspectives was one of the most helpful parts of the day.
After lunch, I had some free time before my interviews.  I found a beautiful porch on the fourth floor to review my notes and enjoy some vitamin D.  After a long winter in North Dakota, the 50 degree weather and view of the mountains was welcome.

I had two half-hour interviews with two different faculty members and both asked the same questions,  “Why do you want to be a school psychologist?” and, “Why do you want to attend DU?”  The first gave me the opportunity to expand on my prior experiences that had led me to the field and to expand on my specific interests.  To the second I was able to say unquestionably, “I want the best education I possibly can.”  Both interviews turned out to be more of a comfortable dialog with faculty than the interrogation I was worried about.

The interview day finished with a reception with good food, wine, beer, and conversation with current students and faculty.  The other prospective students shared feelings of relief that the day was finished.  The head of the program gushed about her summers spent white water kayaking with her family.  I left campus that evening feeling 100% sure DU was the school for me and with my fingers crossed that, come next fall, I would be able to experience the 300 annual days of sunshine, hike the beautiful mountains, and maybe even try out white water kayaking, while preparing for my dream career.

Natalia Lynch
MCE Student Ambassador
Child, Family, and School Psychology

Visit the Student Ambassador Webpage: http://morgridge.du.edu/community/student-ambassadors/


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