Advocate for Student Well-Being
Social-emotional needs are something Ronnie Mitchell ’16, who graduated from York College with a BS in Psychology, and is school psychologist at York’s Hannah Penn K-8 school, knows all too well. He often leads a large team of educators and clinicians (behavioral specialists, speech and occupational therapists, special educators, etc.) to determine the best interventions and strategies for a student.
“We show every child how he or she can succeed to let them know they have strengths and to focus on that,” he says. In 2019 he helped lead a pilot program for 40 students at Hannah Penn with frequent check-ins throughout the school day. “We see how they are doing behaviorally, and it’s really helping,” explains Mitchell of the program that he hopes to expand across the district.
Working in York was the dream, says the Baltimore-born-and-raised first-generation college graduate. “YCP gave me skills for any career, but [during my school psychology internship] at York County School of Technology, I saw a lot of kids from similar backgrounds. There’s a lot of need in these settings with me being a person of color, my students can relate to me.”
Mitchell says students’ increasingly complex mental health issues aren’t exclusive to the urban classroom. “As educators, we have to show love,” he says. “Schools need to be a safe haven. A lot of students come with emotional baggage.”
Just like every other educator, his work during the pandemic has shifted. He has found a lot of students and their families initially struggling to adapt to the virtual learning environment. Some may have not had the technical ability to know how to access everything virtually while other students initially found difficulty adjusting to virtual learning—it requires more accountability and dedication on the student’s end that they are logging on and communicating regularly to ensure they are learning efficiently. Other families simply did not have adequate technology to access the virtual learning environment. “Thankfully,” he says, “Our district’s leadership worked hard to guarantee we would have a one-to-one student to technology ratio (meaning each student would have their own device from the district), providing equitable opportunities for their education.”
Mitchell states that growing mental health needs across the district for students persists. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says, “I have had to change my approach to how I am working with students. For example, in our Therapeutic Emotional Support classroom, our team (which includes a special education teacher, a behavioral analysist, paraprofessionals, a social worker, and myself) has emphasized the development of social skills within our students.
We are currently using a curriculum that focuses on skills including self-regulation, conflict management, communication, and so forth. Occasionally, I also make fun and interactive presentations to students. The best part is that we are reaching a wide range of students as young as second grade, up to seventh, demonstrating how transferable many of the skills are to different age groups. While needs continue to persist with our students, we as educators must continue to love and care for our students as well.” — Sarah Achenbach