Speed bumps, friendships, and the transition to college: School Psychology’s expanding role on K-12 campuses

Professor Worrell is Director of the Graduate School of Education’s School Psychology program; Faculty Director of the Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP); and Faculty Director of the Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory Academy. He also holds an affiliate appointment in the Social and Personality Area in the Department of Psychology. His areas of expertise include academic talent development/gifted education; at-risk youth; cultural identities; scale development and validation; teacher effectiveness; time perspective; and the translation of psychological research findings into school-based practice.

Among his many awards, Professor Worrell is the 2019 recipient of the Palmariaum Award for Gifted Education from the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. He is also president-elect of the American Psychological Association and a member of the National Academy of Education.

Professor Worrell has ongoing research collaborations in China; Ethiopia; Germany; Iran; Israel; Italy; Japan; New Zealand; Nigeria; Peru; Slovenia; Turkey; Uruguay; and the United Kingdom.  Read his full biography here.

Part I  Individual-Level Academic Interventions
Part II  Teacher- and System-Level Interventions
Part III  Interventions from Educational and Social/Personality Psychology
Part IV  Behavioral and Social-Emotional Interventions
Part V  Health and Pediatric Interventions
Part VI  Family Connections and Life Transitions
Part VII  Special Populations
Part VIII  Conclusion

Adding a speed bump in front of a school sounds like a typical discussion for the principal, city civil engineers, and school safety officers. For Professor Frank C. Worrell, another important voice at that table is a school psychologist.

“Kids get hurt with cars driving too quickly down the street. People get knocked down, injured. This becomes a mental health issue for students, and of course school safety. To that extent, it does fall within the school psychologist’s purview,” Worrell said.

In his latest book, “The Cambridge Handbook of Applied School Psychology,” co-edited with Professor Tammy L. Hughes of Duquesne University, and Assistant Professor Dante D. Dixson of Michigan State University, Worrell works to expand the notion of the role of a school psychologist.

An Expanding Role

K-12 schools have long utilized school psychologists for their expertise in supporting students with learning differences or mental health challenges, Worrell said, adding that that role is beginning to evolve and expand to address a school’s overall culture and climate.

“School psychology often doesn't connect to other sub-disciplines of psychology as frequently as it should,” Worrell said. “There are chapters in the handbook on social psychology; refugee students; cross-ethnic friendships; preparing for the transition to college; and juvenile justice,” Worrell said.

The handbook offers steps in how to implement effective practices that are supported by theory and research. “I think what makes it stand out is that it is useful to not only school psychologists, but also administrators, teachers, and parents,” he said.

“Different schools are going to have different issues. Our intention is to try to get at the breadth of issues that schools would be experiencing. One of the things that we do is open both the eyes of parents and teachers and administrators to the breath of topics that the school psychologist can deal with,” he said.

Friendships, Preparing for College

An example is the chapter on cross-ethnic friendships, written by Professor Sandra Graham and doctoral student Kara Kogachi, both from UCLA, that presents research on cross-ethnic friendships and how a school can foster a broadening of students’ interactions, appreciation and respect for students who have ethnic backgrounds different from their own through weaving lessons into coursework; intentional classroom groupings irrespective of academic ability; and robust afterschool programs.

“This chapter is providing the idea of a school psychologist who may not be doing the restructuring of the school themselves, but they are consulting with principals and staff, and so the administrators can then put systems into place that will facilitate inter-group cross-ethnic friendships, and that can impact academic success,” Worrell said.

Another area where school psychologists may not traditionally be thought of as a resource is the transition to college. Offering research on the importance of the freshman year in college, authors Professor Emeritus Judith Kaufman and Assistant Professor Camilla S. Overup, both from Fairleigh Dickinson University, note that while a high school may develop an IEP with parents, in college, a student will be faced with having to self-advocate. The authors suggest involving a high school student more in their IEP as well as setting expectations about college (quantity of work; time management; finding connectedness to other students and faculty; etc.).

“There was a time when individuals with disabilities didn't go to college in large numbers, but they are now. Berkeley and many other large universities all have an office for supporting disabled students,” Worrell said. “Having a school psychologist help structure those pre-college discussions, or even having them in those discussions, could go far in helping a student in their postsecondary educational pursuits.”

More than the Three R’s

In the handbook’s conclusion, Worrell and his co-editors note that schooling may have as its foundational purpose the goal of preparing students to be competent and contributing citizens by teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, but decades of educational research, some of it highlighted in the handbook, also show “a major purpose of education is to ensure that all students maximize their academic, emotional, and social potential.”

“For all of us who care about education, we should be bringing school psychologists into the discussion,” Worrell said.

“As we have outlined in the handbook, an important aspect of what school psychology does, but that isn’t recognized enough, is that it actually can contribute to almost all of the issues that schools deal with. School psychology is not limited to academic or behavioral concerns.”