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Networking and staying on top of current research are top needs for Pennsylvania school psychologists|
by Susan J. Burlingame
Five years before the National Association of School Psychologists was founded and about 15 years before its Pennsylvania affiliate was formed, Penn State started holding annual professional development meetings in October for school psychologists from across the Commonwealth. Founded by Penn State Professor Emeritus Joseph French in the early 1960s, the annual Pennsylvania School Psychologists Conference was held for the 33rd time in October 1999 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. It offers school psychologists in the state professional development opportunities, as well as ways to network and communicate with practitioners and researchers alike.|
According to Dr. Frank Worrell, assistant professor of education in the Department of Educational and School Psychology and Special Education, who has organized the conference for the past two years, the 33rd annual Pennsylvania School Psychologists Conference was a success. Approximately 250 people attended the event, which included Tuesday and Thursday continuing education workshops sandwiched on Wednesday by a more traditional conference day with keynote speakers and concurrent sessions.
SO MUCH MORE THAN VIOLENCE PREVENTION
The general public might assume that school psychologists primary objective in 1999 is to identify and eliminate school violence, but a host of other issues also received attention. Though this years conference did include related workshops, such as Simple, Practical Responses to Manage School Crisis, Who is the Bully and Who is the Victim? and the Identification of Peer Victimization in the Educational Environment, the 33rd conference delved into many other topics. These included Doctoral Training in Pediatric School Psychology: The View from the Students, Applications of Family Assessment by School Psychologists: A Practical Approach, the School Psychologists Role in the Reevaluation Process and others.
Dr. Cecil Reynolds, professor of educational psychology and distinguished research scholar in the College of Education at Texas A&M University, delivered a keynote address that embraced the purpose of the conference. In his address titled Standard Practice of Today: Malpractice of Tomorrow, he examined the importance of staying current in ones field. There are many examples, he said, where people were using a diagnostic criterion that, while legitimate at the time, later proved untrue. It is essential, he pointed out, that practitioners understand and know about the research being done. Hence, something that is accepted today as a current practice, could be considered malpractice in the future.
For years, for example, he noted, we used to identify children as having a neurological disorder if their hand and eye dominance were on different sides [right-handedness and left-eyedness, for example]. A study of normal children later revealed that 40 percent of normal children have such differences in their dominant sides.
In a telephone interview following the conference, Reynolds noted the attendees seemed enthusiastic about his presentation. He was surprised to find that the Pennsylvania School Psychologists Conference at Penn State was the largest meeting of school-based researchers and practitioners in the state.
Dr. Mark Greenberg, Bennett Chair of Prevention Research in the College of Health and Human Development, presented a second keynote address on Promoting Social/ Emotional Competence in School-aged Children: State of the Art, which also was part of the ongoing Bernreuter Lecture Series in School Psychology. He noted that violence prevention is the topic du jour. If we try to grasp at the problem with short-term solutions, we will leave empty-handed.
Greenbergs premise is that problems in adolescence are likely to be solved with a focus on teaching children the social/emotional skills that are necessary to help them develop healthy relationships.
This is not about building self-esteem, he added. He has done extensive research on the topic and advocates a curriculum-based program where children at the elementary level will learnalong with their academic topicsthe tools to prevent early substance abuse, teen pregnancy, school failure and early initiation into the negative behaviors. His research has found that academic achievement and social/emotional development are interrelated. Those with better social/emotional skills are likely to be doing better academically.
With a series of supports along the way, children are less likely to go astray, Greenberg said. We need to involve teachers, parents and school boards in long-range plans. We need to understand that to implement programs effectively takes time and perseverance. A multiyear focus is hard, and the absence of comprehensive planning makes it difficult, but Greenberg believes it is possible to affect the futures of students by putting these programs in place.
This presentation was Greenbergs first at a Penn State Pennsylvania School Psychologists Conference. He came to Penn State two years ago from the University of Washington in Seattle. He said that the people [attendees] seemed very interested in the idea that psychologists can be involved in the planning and prevention of these behaviors.
Other Penn State presenters included Dr. Rayne S. Dennison and Dr. Tracey E. Hall, assistant professors of education in the Department of Educational and School Psychology and Special Education, who discussed The Measurement and Promotion of Self-monitoring in the Classroom. Dr. Marley Watkins, associate professor of education and professor-in-charge of the School Psychology Program, ran a session on Empirically Supported Interpretation of the WISC-III. Other presenters from around the state rounded out the conference sessions.
The 33rd annual Pennsylvania School Psychologists Conference included pre- and postconference workshops, which offered 5 continuing education credits to participants. Dr. Cecil Reynolds presented the Tuesday session on Behavioral Assessment of Child and Adolescent Behavioral Problems: The BASC Model and Its Applications. Dr. Nancy Minshew of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine presented the Thursday session on Autism, Aspergers and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Recognition, Assessment and Intervention Strategies.
AN ACCESSIBLE CONFERENCE FOR ALL
Conference coordinator Worrell is especially proud of the mix of participants who attended this years conference. Psychology is a practice-oriented field, he said. We try to find a balance between researchers and practitioners, and we were able to get both to present. Its really nice to strike that balance. Plus, the conference serves as a chance to instruct graduate students from Penn State, as well as other universities.
Having said that, Worrell believes there is still more outreach to do.
We would like to develop a more comprehensive mailing list from the Pennsylvania chapters rosters of the American Psychological Association and the American Association of School Psychologists and attract a greater number of participants.
Also, Worrell is concerned that as school budgets tighten, psychologists are having to choose between this and other professional development conferences. Yet, the conference is appealing to participants, because we are able to keep costs down. The conference is not a profit-maker, he said. It is intended to be a service to the Commonwealth.
An outreach program of the College of Education in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, the School Psychology Board of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and the Association of School Psychologists of Pennsylvania