I am a School Psychologist. I received my degree in school psychology at a Historical Black College (HBCU) called Howard University in 2007. I began my professional career as a School Psychologist in a charter school in Washington D.C. and later in nearby Laurel, Maryland. The schools I had chosen to work at served students and families from lower socio-economic statuses, as well as predominately Black communities. Like my other School Psychologist colleagues, I administered IQ tests and other processing batteries, completed behavior analysis and plans, work reports on student performance and achievement, attended IEP meetings, etc. It wasn’t until I moved to California in 2014 and accepted a position as a School Psychologist that I first learned of the landmark lawsuit referred to as Larry P vs. Riles (1979).
For those that are unaware of this case or it’s significance, the Larry P v. Riles (1979) court case is a landmark lawsuit that changed special education for Black students across California and banned the administration of standardized intelligence quotient (IQ) tests for the placement of Black students in special education. The case represented a class action lawsuit of Black parents in San Francisco who challenged the over-representation of Blacks students in special education classes and programs based on standardized assessment. During the court case, the basis of the argument in opposition to IQ tests and standardized assessment for Black students were that the tests were biased, founded in Eurocentric “White supremacist” culture and were overall discriminatory. The court case concluded with a permanent ban on IQ testing of Black students within California and the ban continues to this day. California is the only state with such a ban. Therefore, you can understand my initial shock and confusion when I learned that as a school psychologist in California, I would not be allowed to utilize the familiar assessments I had previously learned in Washington D.C and Maryland.
I’ve since lived in California for the last 5 years and during that time, I’ve had numerous debates on the validity of this law and its purported ability to reduce over-representation of Black students in special education. The California Association of School Psychologists (CASP) wants the ban lifted and notes that their reasoning is that the ban has not been effective in curbing the overrepresentation of black students in special education. As a School Psychologist and now Director of Special Education, I don’t need to see the hard numbers to know through observation that this law has not been effective in reducing the disproportionality of African-American students in special education, but simply banned the use of assessment tools, that while imperfect provide valuable information about an individuals' overall cognitive learning profile. It is my belief that the issue is less on the assessment batteries themselves, but instead the interpretation of the results by the individuals administering the assessment.
While I understand you may not want to take my professional judgement and beliefs as truth, let me share some relevant data. Both nationally and locally within California, disproportionality of Black students continues - but now specifically, disabilities are more related to perceived challenging behaviors. According to a KQED article, A Landmark Lawsuit Aimed to Fix Special Ed for California’s Black Students. It Didn’t, Lee Romney shared, “But data released in 2016 show that Black students nationwide are still being placed disproportionately in special education—particularly in categories like ‘emotional disturbance,’ which are tied to behavior.” The author further shares, “Many black families find themselves navigating the system because nearly one in three black students in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is in special education—compared to one in eight non-black students, district data shows.” The data suggests that disproportionality for Black student in special education is still rampant and reform is still needed to address the issue.
Given our current place in history, the year 2020 has been filled with uncertainty due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and the social-political cry to action due to recent undeniable viral videos of the on-going pervasive crimes against black bodies, people, and minds. However, I wonder if now is the time to review this law, its utility, and take action to lift the ban. I wonder if now is the time to re-think and re-examine our educational practices, policies and procedures to truly create an equitable educational system for all students, but specifically those disenfranchised by the system. My vote is to lift the Larry P ban and instead focus on full inclusion efforts, new special education eligibility definitions and criteria’s such as Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses model (PSW), and overall improvement of educational programs for teachers, school psychologists, and other related service providers that don’t just infuse “cultural competency,” but dismantle implicit bias and racism. The call to action is now!
Over the last few months, while sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, service providers and those in the Education world are adapting whole new ways of teaching and supporting through distance learning.
During these unprecedented times, our students are experiencing a range of emotions, and the social-emotional component is more critical than ever. In providing remote support to our students and families, the Rosemary Elementary School team recognizes that our students miss their friends, teachers and feeling of being together and connected.
What with so much uncertainty, new routines, and schedules to adapt to (coupled with complex feelings), the team wanted to highlight the value of “Self-Compassion.”
The team at Rosemary (Samantha, Crystal and Matt) did a fantastic job of creating a personalized Powtoon video addressed to the Rosemary students - explaining the meaning and importance of Self-Compassion with some useful tips and ideas for practicing it at home. The goal of creating the online video is to encourage students to practice self-care and foster an overarching commitment to creating connectedness across physical distance.
This Self-Compassion Powtoon video was very well-received by the staff and students, and it was a treat to watch some of the kids who shared back how they have been practicing Self-Compassion at home. Enjoy!!
This week was my turn to contribute to the UE blog, and it has been a challenge to think about what to write given all that is going on in the world. So, I will just write from the heart and I will not go silent in this time, where it is important to use our voices and ability to speak and act on the injustices that continue to happen within black communities.
I have so many thoughts and feelings related to how black lives continue to be mistreated, and I feel that there are no words that can describe the pain, rage and exhaustion that black communities may feel as we continue to see injustice, inequity, and violence towards black youth and adults.
In the past few days, I have seen a lot content going around with tools and tips on how to address racial issues within our organizations and personal lives. I am grateful for those tools, BUT, as the image shows below, until you fix the heart, there will be no real change.
Recently I conducted a series of interviews for my grad school project called Diversity, Inclusion and Authenticity: How to make a Lasting impact for Organizational Change. One of the key findings of this project suggested that it requires for leaders and individuals to "do the work" within themselves first before attempting to implement change in policy or any initiative towards creating a more diverse and inclusive environment. From what I learned from the experiences of others and my own, I agree that change starts with reflection on our own hearts, mindsets and cultural framework. I believe that without our own self-reflection, any effort of change will not be sustainable to make a true impact. As we work on our own hearts, and start to make internal transformation, we will become effective in making transformative changes within our systems and communities to protect BLACK LIVES.
Real, sustainable, and authentic change requires COMMITMENT, HEART and ACTION. Heart will give us the courage and the stamina to walk the walk when this journey to create change gets tough. Are you ready to do the work? Are you committed? Are you ready to take action? Because BLACK LIVES MATTER!
I stand in solidarity with you.
During this period of prolonged school closures, we are all adapting to new realities of daily life in our own ways. We each have our own coping skills, routines (intentional or not), patterns that make up the rhythms of life. Without the physically, socially, and emotionally immersive experience of school and work, we add up new webs of behaviors, creating a new/abnormal sense of daily life that for most of us is completely novel.
And yet, there are myriad ways we collectively engage in routine, in social dynamics, in group narratives. And for young people everywhere, this social distancing has not eliminated the need to experiment and build a sense of identity. Adolescents and teens everywhere are still engaged in the process of differentiating their unique selves from their families, as they also spend more time at home with them and participate in family roles more regularly than before. I realized recently in a session with a client how much of a role mass media is playing in that process for youth right now.
While young people can’t meet together at school or in the community to participate in these exploratory behaviors with their peers, they are finding other spaces and creative mechanisms for continuing these critical developmental experiences. Whether it’s through video games, TV series, movies, music, manga, or other reading material, teens are using immersive virtual experiences to explore their concepts of self. I’ve spent a lot of time recently in sessions with young people engaging in a reflective process about what media they are consuming in order to support this. When a young person is telling me about a TV show they are watching, they are not simply relating a passive escapist activity, they are curating which aspects of the plot, characters, literary and artistic devices, and themes to share. They are piecing together parts of the deeper narratives, cultural and social values, and shared identity points with characters that they relate to and feel significant to them. This curational process of reflecting may look very different from being immersed in a group of peers, but the building of a sense of self continues. Initially I struggled to understand and recognize the significance of this in a therapeutic process, but as social distancing and remote services continue, I am seeing this with more clarity.
Witnessing a young person engage in that reflective process, learning which characters they relate to, admire, strive to be like, and feel an aversion to is all social-emotional learning. Who ever said there is nothing to be learned about ourselves from learning about vampires? Maybe it’s enriching to imagine ourselves outside the scope of standard human experiences, maybe it’s possible young people exploring their identities in this way will have extra creative thinking skills that will allow them to shape the future in ways we can’t even imagine. There’s no way for us to fully understand the range of impacts of this moment on young people’s social-emotional development. We already know many of the negative and disparate impacts on our communities across socioeconomic and racial lines. There is no living precedent for the suffering of this moment in time that we are collectively immersed in; we can acknowledge the incredible resilience of young people that is emerging through that suffering.
I'm Ori Gutin, a Student Support Assistant (SSA) at One Purpose School in San Francisco's Bayview District. At the start of the shelter in place, I joined an awesome group of San Francisco-based All-In! staff, comprised of SSAs, clinicians, and Unconditional Education (UE) coaches, that were dedicated to providing weekly social emotional learning (SEL) content to our students stuck at home. Our hope was to touch on issues specific to what they might be experiencing because of COVID-19. We have created SEL content on mindfulness, peace corners, yoga, identifying feelings such as frustration, worry, and now... loneliness! This week's video normalizes the feelings of loneliness that our students might be experiencing at home right now, and through a reading of the fantastic children's book The Invisible String, we help remind them that even if they are not physically with their school community, they are still connected in their hearts to everyone they love! Additionally, students are provided two handouts (Invisible String Worksheet and Special Message Worksheet) they can do at home to help them stay connected to their friends and school communities from afar. Making these weekly videos has been such a wonderful experience for me. It provides me an opportunity to think creatively about how to share social emotional learning with students in an engaging way.
While I have been working on these videos to support my passion for SEL in my professional life, I have also been working on an SEL project in my personal life – self publishing my first picture book, The Butterfly Who Flew in the Rain. My book tells the story of Cody the caterpillar who was born in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm, and his ensuing journey of transformation and self-discovery, in which he learns to not only accept life’s challenges, but to embrace them. It is meant to teach kids that even if things appear impossibly difficult, or it feels as if we are completely mired in negative emotions or situations with seemingly no end in sight, we still must never give up. It is based in the philosophy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which teaches that we must not sit around just waiting for happiness or better conditions to come, but rather we must learn to live with life’s challenges, accept them, continue to act in alignment with our personal values, and move forward in our lives in a meaningful way. Given the state of our world right now, and the immense challenges facing children across the globe, I believe this story of perseverance is more important now than ever before.
I’m working with an incredible illustrator to self-publish this book, and together we are trying to print 1,000 copies. We need to raise $5,638 to get our book to the printers, and right now we have raised $4,385, which is just over 77% of the way towards our goal. After we meet our self-publishing costs, all profits made from the sale of the book will go to two local COVID-19 emergency relief funds that are supporting communities in need in my home city, San Francisco, and in the illustrator’s home state, Massachusetts. We will donate 50% of the profits to MassUndocuFund, which provides funds directly to families of undocumented immigrants who have lost their jobs, and are unable to access any state or federal relief funds in Massachusetts, and 50% to Compass Family Services, which provides emergency COVID-19 Family Care Kits, which include food, pharmaceutical, and cleaning supplies to homeless families in San Francisco.
If you are interested in supporting this project, go to www.orisstories.com/support and donate $20! In return, we will ship you a signed hardcover copy of the book to anywhere in the U.S., and email you corresponding SEL worksheets and discussions questions, too!
Overnight and without any warning, our students’ parents and caregivers were asked to become teachers. One thing we have found while supporting parents in this new role is that there is a LOT of information out there. Many of the parents we have talked to have felt overwhelmed by the flood of emails, text links, and other resources that have been sent their way. We have found it helpful taking things “back to basics”—talking through steps to help parents structure their child’s space and time during distance learning (MTSS fans might even think of this as helping parents set up their “Tier 1” of learning-at-home). The following is a checklist we have put together, mainly adapted from these super helpful resources: Distance Learning: 8 Tips to Help Your Child Learn at Home and Family Engagement: Supporting Students With Disabilities During COVID
1. Create a Clutter-Free Learning Space for Your Child
Does your child have a special place to do homework? It is important to set up a quiet, clutter-free area if your child is learning full-time from home. One idea could be to convert the kitchen table into a learning station. Turn off the TV and remove all cups, salt and pepper, and other kitchen items when your child is doing schoolwork. When it is time to eat, put away the school stuff and use it again as a kitchen table.
2. Make a Schedule and Stick to it
We are creatures of habit. With no school bell to beat, kids might feel like sleeping in, and with no set schedule, it can be hard to get around to schoolwork. Here are a few questions to help you and your child come up with a schedule that works:
3. Reduce Distractions
Our homes are full of distractions. Make a list of the things that distract your child and then find ways to limit them during learning time. For example, is the dog a big distraction? If so, consider putting your dog in a separate room when your child is doing schoolwork. Are games or social media a big distraction? Try blocking them on your child’s device during instructional time. Another way to eliminate online temptations: after downloading an assignment, turn off the Wi-Fi and/or cellular service to help your child focus on the work.
4. Try and Get Plenty of Exercise
Exercise helps us think better. When we move and groove, our problem-solving, memory, and attention improve. Physical activity is a natural way to reduce stress and prevent anxiety. Look for family-friendly activities/ workouts you can do at home or in your neighborhood. The best time to exercise might be right before tackling schoolwork, but it is also good to take exercise breaks throughout the day.
5. See Which Accessibility Features Could Help your Child
Most phones, laptops, and other mobile devices have built-in assistive technology. For example, read aloud or text-to-speech can help struggling readers, and speech-to-text can help struggling writers. On YouTube, you can adjust the settings to slow down the playback speed if your child is having trouble understanding videos. You can also change the settings to show closed captions if it helps your child to read the text while listening to videos.
6. Reach Out to Your Child’s Teacher(s)
Learning at home requires family support. To support your child, set up a direct line of communication with your child’s teachers. Use email, text, phone calls, or maybe even video conferencing to connect. You may even want to set up a day and time each week to talk. You can use this time to talk about challenges your child is facing, review upcoming instruction, and understand expectations. Being proactive is essential if your child is struggling. If your child has learning challenges, here are some questions to consider:
7. Make Time for Fun
Kids are missing out on a ton of social interaction with their peers, and craving opportunities to have fun and just be kids. Making time for fun activities can help take the pressure off work and learning and ease the tensions of sharing close space for long periods of time. Playworks has a great Playbook of small-group games (mostly geared for younger kids), while older students may prefer structured activities like card or board games, or just shared independent time.
We are in an unprecedented time, and I cannot tell you how tired I am of hearing the word “unprecedented”. However, it is an absolutely true description of what is happening in our world. Now more than ever (another super overused phrase), it is important that we talk about what self-care looks like, the mental health of ourselves and others, and how to stay physically safe. In our normal lives, we may do well with all of these things. In the current situation, we may have to work a little bit harder. Enter: The Science Of Well-Being, the most popular course at Yale which is being offered online for FREE. In it, they cover:
As we are all aware things have changed in recent months. Our professional and personal relationships have shifted, flipped and flopped 10 times over. As adults we have to the tools to manage the uncertainty caused from COVID-19. A question I continue to ask myself is, what does this mean for kids in the long run?
Leah Campbell provides the following list:
Social distancing in the short term may not have a large impact on kids, but if this type of separated interactions continues for a longer period, teens may suffer down the road. Amy Learmonth explains the following:
“Our brains go through their two biggest growth spurts during infancy and adolescence. These are the two periods where our brains are the most malleable and primed for learning.”
“If our teens’ experiences are stunted during this time, if they’re short-changed on opportunities to grow, learn, and develop, I believe the impact from prolonged isolation will be greater on them.”
How Parents can Help Kids Continue to Socially Develop While Stuck at Home
Here are a couple helpful tips Leah Campbell created to outline what parents can do to help kids develop at home:
I think it’s important to note that there are no perfect answers, but it is important to remind the parents and kids we work with to do the best they can. Resources for many of the families we work with are stretched thin, academics may not be a top priority. We can continue to provide our families with creative and unique self-regulation techniques, in order to handle situations, the best they can. There is an ancient phrase that states, “it takes a village to raise a child” During these unprecedented times no more than every WE are that village.
Read the full Healthline Article to learn more about how the pandemic impacts the long-term social development of children.
Even though we have recently been turned upside down in space and time, we are suddenly at the point where we must talk about the end of the school year. In the article Pieces of the Bye: The Importance of Preparing to say Goodbye to Children and Their Families, Janice Fialka touches on all the complicated aspects of endings and offers ways to reflect more deeply to acknowledge and find relief in our human experiences. It can be easy to let these school closures and the pandemic eclipse the multitude of joys, victories, surprises, disasters, and repairs that went on in all our relationships at our schools. Thus, let us not forget the important memories and events that occurred from the first day of school onward. I hope this brings some structured relief as we all deal with the school years’ end in a time that we never could have imagined.
Janice Fialka reflects on how to process saying goodbye in her article:
This visual tool invites us to think about many facets of our work with families, especially the more challenging ones. In using this guide, we do not have to dutifully complete each “piece” for each relationship. We use it to help us uncover reactions, to be reflective and thus be more deliberate in our discussions.
My Final Thoughts
As our goodbyes look very different in this time of virtual and on the phone meets, I hope that we can use this “pieces of the bye” as a springboard to plan how to hold multiple sides of the experience of goodbyes. We can fantasize about that perfect ending that we could have had with our clients if we were face to face in our familiar meeting spaces, and we can also acknowledge that our moves to say goodbye during this unprecedented time may be just as powerful too.
As a state, California has reached seven weeks with the stay-at-home (SAH) order in place. Many U.S. states and territories currently have issued state of emergencies for the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries have quarantined their citizens to reduce the transmission of the virus. As governments increase preventative measures to decrease COVID-19, mental health continues to be an area that lacks similar efforts. For example, Governor Cuomo of New York has asked mental health professionals to provide tele-health services for New York residents. This action taken by Governor Cuomo is a preventative measure to decrease current and future mental or behavioral difficulties.
COVID-19 might negatively impact some individuals more than others. Below are three key tips to support staff, parents and community members that focus on preventing possible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
Preventative Actions can Reduce PTSD Symptomatology
Focus on what you can control in your day to day life. Have a karaoke night, host a Netflix party, bake, meditate, journal or draw! Name it to tame it - share with someone how you are feeling and why to help manage those negative feelings. Limit your exposure to the news as they could cause more distress.
Understand Behaviors from a Developmental Standpoint
Children, adolescents and adults present symptoms differently. Young children might not have the ability to verbalize their needs, which could cause an increase in negative behavior. Children and adolescents might present stress as headaches, stomachaches, and difficulty sleeping.
Acknowledge the Changing Dynamic of Resources
Be mindful that the needs for resources will change over time. As the SAH order becomes the new normal, different needs might arise and will require us to be adaptable to them. Be active in updating your resources.
All-In! Partnership Team