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Idaho’s Only School Psychology Program Combating Mental Health Shortages in Idaho Schools

February 23, 2023

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With Idaho facing a shortage of mental health professionals, and growing mental health needs for children and teens, Idaho State University, home to the state's only school psychology program, is using a combination of practical knowledge and hands-on training to fill an immediate and critical need in Idaho schools. 

School psychologists are often the glue that holds the school system together. Because outside mental health services require insurance coverage, school psychologists are critical in providing those services to uninsured students in P-12 schools, specifically in underserved populations. 

Unfortunately, there is a significant shortage of school psychologists in Idaho. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students. Currently in Idaho, the ratio is about 1,700 students per one school psychologist. This shortage has resulted in a decrease in services that school psychologists provide, such as psychoeducational assessment, behavioral and academic consultation, crisis management and relief, and intervention planning that are the primary link between schools and homes. 

“In this profession, the students that need the most help are probably getting the least,” said Bocangera. “Research has shown if you can catch a student early on before they fall behind, they can do better. If you want to make a change at a critical time in a student’s life and have an impact on them forever, then school psychology is for you.” 

ISU Associate Professor of School Psychology, Dr. Joel Bocanegra, believes the shortage includes a lack of awareness in Idaho for the demand and workload that school psychologists perform. 

“We can’t stop what is happening in the home or outside world sometimes, but we can influence them in the school environment,” Bocanegra said. “We know that school is a safe space for students and school psychologists play a critical role in ensuring that students are getting fed, that they are safe, they are warm, they are loved and they are supported.”

The field experience in the school psychology program, which is typically a paid full-time internship, provides candidates with real world experiences in P-12 schools. School psychology candidates wear multiple hats as they work one-on-one with students either in the classroom setting, on the playground, in the lunchroom, or in an office environment. These practicing school psychologists are prepared with a variety of multidisciplinary functions to provide direct and/or indirect services to students, parents, and teachers. These services could include providing social/emotional training, leading anti-bullying initiatives, implementing violence, drug, or alcohol prevention programs, working with parents to manage learning and emotional problems, and even helping with emergent bilingual students. 

“We know that not everyone has the same needs, and we don’t assume all the problems are within the child. That is why we look at the system and the teachers, principals, and one’s home life. We then provide an intervention plan to empower our parents, teachers and children,” said Dr. Howard Fan, Professor and Chair of the School Psychology and Educational Leadership Department within ISU’s College of Education.

As the field has been expanding and mental health is taking a bigger role in schools, the school psychology candidates are often granted interim certification in their practicum/internship and offered a position within the district following their graduation. With a near 100% job placement rate upon graduation, the ISU School Psychology program is offered fully online with a new cohort starting each summer. The stackable, 3-year program allows students to complete the Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Psychology Examiner Degree and then enter the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) in School Psychology program to become a nationally certified school psychologist. The program enrolls 8-12 students per year with a preference given to those with an education or psychology bachelor’s degree. Given recent demand, the program is looking to expand and accept more students in upcoming years. 

Scholarship opportunities are also available for in-state and out-of-state students. In addition, all graduate applications within the College of Education, including the school psychology program, are free for students who apply in the 2022-2023 season. To learn more, please visit: https://www.isu.edu/spel/.


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