Mental health care providers working in schools receive recognition this week. Governor Dennis Daugaard has declared School Psychology Week in South Dakota to acknowledge their impact on learning. School psychologists focus on removing challenges so students can succeed in the classroom.
South Dakota’s School Psychologist of the Year is Kari Oyen. She’s on state and national panels, and she’s president-elect of the South Dakota Association of School Psychologists. She has many leadership roles, but Oyen is passionate about her day job with the Lennox School District in the southeastern part of the state.
“I get the opportunity every day to make a difference in the life of a child. I spend so much time being able to lower barriers for students who might be struggling with academics, who might be struggling with behavior, who might be struggling social-emotionally with mental health concerns,” Oyen says.
Oyen says psychologists help students achieve more in school by assessing kids, determining their challenges, and designing plans that provide students opportunities to learn. She says a new mindset among professionals helps kids and teachers accomplish more.
“When we looked at kids who were struggling with problem behavior, we really felt like it was a ‘within child’ problem. Right? If we only did something within that child, then they’ll be able to do better,” Oyen says. “Now we really changed our focus, and we think about the child within the context of our school. How can we help kids be more successful in school? And if we think about it in that way, there’s not a lot we can do if it’s just an only within child problem, but there’s a whole lot we can do when we think about it the child within our environment.”
Oyen says that perspective empowers educators to change the way they teach or how they intervene to benefit everyone in their classes. She says school psychologists work with parents, teachers, administrators, school counselors and social workers to support students.
Oyen says some school districts hire psychologists, and sometimes co-ops or other organizations employ the mental health workers. She says that means every school in the state has access to a psychologist who can promote good mental health in the school and community.
The South Dakota Association of School Psychologists represents more than 85 trained mental health care providers who work with students across the state.