How to Become an Elementary School Psychologist

Overview

At the elementary school level, school psychologists are an important part of the team that supports the teacher’s ability to teach and the students’ ability to learn. With the national spotlight on education, programs like the national core curriculum and constant standardized testing, elementary school children may feel pressured to perform. Add to that the “baggage” that some students bring to school, like economic deprivation and danger within the community, some elementary school students may find themselves struggling with academic achievement. The school psychologist can step in with appropriate services for such students.

What is an Elementary School Psychologist?

An elementary school psychologist is a specialist psychologist trained in child development who works with young people to identify those at risk of (or already suffering from) delayed development. Typically working directly within the school environment, the elementary school psychologist is well placed to see children who are struggling with their social or educational development, and work closely with them. An elementary school psychologist helps children succeed not just academically, but socially, emotionally and behaviorally.

Psychologists in this field will work with the young people to try to establish what the underlying causes of the difficulties are and, if possible, address them. They will also intervene if they see young people who appear to be at risk and take appropriate action to hopefully rectify any problem before it begins to impact upon their development.

In addition, these psychologists play a broader role within a school, providing support and guidance to pupils and staff alike as well as planning, developing and implementing initiatives to improve the mental health of students. With a typical background of child development in addition to psychology, elementary school psychologists use psychological principles and theories to effect positive change within the student population.

What is Scope of an Elementary School Psychologist’s Work?

Elementary school psychologists are tasked with the coordination and delivery of psychological services for elementary school students and their families, teachers and community agencies that may be involved with the students. They are most often found in the public school system but may work in private schools, university settings or private practice. They are trained in the fundamental areas of psychology and education with specialized training for working with elementary-aged children. Because of that training, they are uniquely qualified to assess and address concerns with learning and cognition as well as social, emotional and developmental issues for students in the elementary setting.

The primary role of an elementary school psychologist is to facilitate learning and academic success for the students. A variety of assessments and observational activities are used to gather and interpret data collected. Using early intervention and a data-driven decision making process, they develop and implement interventions to support learning and individual academic or emotional needs. Programs may also be developed for groups of students, teachers or parents based on the specific needs identified.

Consultation and training for teachers, paraprofessional staff or parents is a significant part of practice. The Elementary school psychologist may consult with teachers, staff or parents regarding new or ongoing behavior or learning concerns to discuss interventions. They may conduct formal trainings when developing new programs. The psychologist may also collaborate with community agencies that provide services to students. By actively engaging and collaborating with the other people and agencies involved with the child, the program becomes a cohesive and dynamic part of the student’s academic environment.

As a trained mental health professional, addressing emotional and psychological issues is a vital part of an elementary school psychologist’s role. This may take the form of individual or small group counseling, addressing threat of harm concerns or assisting families with referral to outside resources for additional care.

Why Do We Need Elementary School Psychologists?

Starting elementary school is a major milestone in every child’s life, some cope with it better while others struggle. In this new environment, new issues can come to light and identification of behavioral issues or learning difficulties is possible. If left unchecked, these can lead to social and educational problems that can blight a young person’s progression well beyond elementary school. Identification and subsequent implementation of coping strategies at this early stage gives young people the best chance to overcome these hurdles. This is the role of the elementary school psychologist.

Elementary school psychologists work with young children to highlight any potential behavioral and/or learning issues they may have and work to improve it through development of a structured plan which is put into action through close working with both teachers and parents.

Behavioral issues can have a number of causes – issues at home or the stress of the classroom environment can provide a trigger. Elementary school psychologists work with parents and teachers to identify triggers and implement action plans to improve this. Similarly, highlighting difficulties in learning alongside any underlying cause before putting a plan in place to help overcome such barriers is an important part of their role. The main purpose of the role of elementary school psychologist is to set in place plans to ensure that all children have the same opportunities for educational development.

Increasingly, the elementary school classroom is “inclusive” in the sense that special education students are mixed with general education students in the classroom. The elementary school psychologist can determine which children are in need of special education programs, and support teachers who have a wide range of ability levels in the classroom. Developing an Individual Education Program or IEP for students with special needs is an important part of special education, and the elementary school psychologist can add valuable input. Working as part of a multi-disciplinary team, the elementary school psychologist can construct an IEP that provides the child with the greatest opportunity for success.

What are the Academic Requirements to Become an Elementary School Psychologist?

The first step to becoming an elementary school psychologist is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Generally speaking, it is most prudent for students to earn their bachelor’s degree in education or psychology. Majoring in one field and minoring in the other would be advantageous. Undergraduate studies prepare students for advanced study in a master’s degree program by introducing them to essential topics in the field.

At the very minimum, a master’s degree is required in order to practice as a school psychologist. Various degree options are available, the most common of which are a Master of Arts (M.A.), a Master of Science (M.S.), a Master of Education (M.Ed.), or an Education Specialist (Ed.S). Whatever program of study is chosen, students must ensure that it is accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) so they are fully prepared for advanced studies, as well as state and national licensure and certification.

Master’s degree programs of less than 60 semester credit hours typically take three years to complete. These programs also include an internship component that is required in order to qualify for state certification. However, with many states requiring specialist-level training from a program of more than 60 semester credit hours, pursuing a specialist-level master’s degree program is highly recommended. In addition to more coursework requirements, specialist level programs also include a yearlong internship experience of at least 1,200 supervised hours. These programs can take four to five years to complete. A specialist-level degree is accepted by the vast majority of states and allows for full professional practice in an elementary school setting.

Licensure as an elementary school psychologist is handled by each individual state. The requirements for licensure vary, but most states require school psychologists to graduate from an NASP accredited school psychology program. Some states require school psychologists to be licensed educators while others require a passing score on the Praxis Exam. NASP maintains a database of licensure requirements for each state.

What are the Requirements for the School Psychologist Certification?

To become a Certified School Psychologist, one must complete a graduate degree program of at least 60 semester credit hours, in addition to a 1,200-hour supervision  internship. A passing score on the National School Psychology Examination is additionally required. At that point, the NASP may bestow certification, which is recognized by all 50 states.

How Much Does an Elementary School Psychologist Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median earning of school psychologists in May 2014 stood at $74,030. Of course there are other factors that will also come to play in determining the salary. Experience and the state in which one works will of course be all important in this regard.

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