School Psychologist of the Year focuses on prevention
Psychologists spend a lifetime learning about self-esteem, the ego and the mind. Here’s hoping Pam Wilkie is feeling a sustained boost in her self-esteem: She’s been named School Psychologist of the Year.
A member of the Letchworth Central Teachers Association, Wilkie was honored by the New York State Association of School Psychologists. She has served as a school psychologist in Letchworth for 18 years.
Working with longtime colleague Bob Johnson, the pair provides psychological services to an entire district of 900-plus students. Wilkie said they divide the grades, odd and even, and then switch every year. This way, they follow a student through his or her entire school career.
In addition to caring for individuals, Wilkie works in the school at large.
“We provide prevention and teach in the classroom,” Wilkie said. Today’s tools being passed onto students include anger management, problem solving, violence prevention and empathy.
Being in the classroom, she said,” … is a nice way for all of the kids to get to know us and to see us as another teacher and care provider, so there is not a stigma about coming to see us.
Being visible is important to her, as well as spending time in the classroom.
“My core mission really is prevention,” she said. “It’s my biggest focus.”
Working with teams of educators and health care professionals in the school can help students as they are just beginning to struggle, either behaviorally or academically.
“I think the school psychologist has come a long way,” she said. “We’re an important member of the team.”
“Dr. Wilkie is a very dedicated school psychologist. She is one of the leaders of the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) program that has helped to improve the educational environment in our district,” said John Novak, teacher and president of the local Letchworth Central Teachers Association. He said his colleague “goes above and beyond to help students succeed. “
Because the Letchworth school draws students from 7-9 rural townships, Wilkie said it plays an important role for families.
“We truly are the center of a community,” she said, noting: “The school is in the middle of a cornfield.”
The school provides specialists in reading, special education, speech, occupational therapy and psychology, she said, so, “This is where people go when they don’t know where else to turn … We link to help parents get services.”
Wilkie said the caring Letchworth educational community has a snack pack program, through which faculty help provide students in need with food on weekends. Retirees fill the backpacks with food donated in the faculty room by teachers and community groups. Faculty also draw names and shop for needed gifts during the holidays.
In her role as school psychologist, she provides counseling and psychological assessment, handling individual, group and crises counseling. For the younger students, Wilkie has available a play therapy room with sandbox puppets, dollhouses and Playdough.
Part of her duties include performing curriculum-based assessments three times a year in reading and math. “We want to catch children before they get off track,” she said.
“If there is a concern about students’ learning, we do evaluations to study their cognitive abilities, learning styles, strengths and weaknesses,” she said.
School psychologists help determine education classifications, including learning disabilities, emotional disabilities and other health issues. Some students have autism; others struggle with social skills, anxiety, depression or grief.
Wilkie’s award is “In recognition of outstanding contribution to the field of school psychology and the life of the children we serve.”
— Liza Frenette
(Pam Wilkie is a member of Letchworth Central Teachers Association)