School psychologists play a vital role in helping kids reach their full potentialDec 02, 2021 01:32PM ● By Becky Ginos
Emilie Larsen surrounded by her family after being named School Psychologist of the Year by the Utah Association of School Psychologists. Courtesy photo
FARMINGTON—The past year and a half has been a challenging one. In addition to the physical effects, COVID has also taken an emotional toll. Feelings of anxiety, stress and depression are hard for adults to navigate but maybe more so for children.
School psychologists are specifically equipped to help children and their parents cope with those problems as well as give them the tools needed to be successful. Emilie Larsen, who works in the Davis School District, was recently named School Psychologist of the Year by the Utah Association of School Psychologists (UASP).
“I love being able to build relationships in the communities,” said Larsen. “Intervening when they’re young is so important. It’s something I love to do.”
Larsen covers two schools, Ellison Park Elementary and South Clearfield Elementary. “We work primarily under the umbrella of special education,” she said. “But we work with the whole school population. I do evaluations, social emotional behavioral needs, accommodations if they need an IEP and counseling for individuals or small groups. Also friendshipping, anxiety, depression and expected behavior for school.”
It’s a collaboration with parents and teachers to support them, said Larsen. “I work closely with school counselors. We want to help the whole child at home and school to make sure their needs are met.”
The best place for kids is in the classroom, she said. “But if they need more we want to give them that. I work closely with Davis Behavioral Health if a child needs outside help and a therapist will come into our school and we work together on who does what.”
The ratio of psychologists to students in Utah is lower than the national recommendation, Larsen said. “They recommend an average of one for every 500-700 students. In Utah it is closer to one in every 2,300 students. We’re spread a little thin. There’s a big need for more of us.”
Kids overall are very resilient but they still need help, she said. “One in five kids will have a significant mental health concern. In Utah it’s one in four. The need is still there. They’re often feeling the stress from the adults around them. Out of that number, only about 20 percent of those kids are getting the resources they need.”
Larsen said she’s always happy to work with parents. “They should reach out to the teacher or administration if they’re worried about their child. We want to have an open line of communication with parents. They know their kids best.”
Most of the kids she works with move on and she doesn’t always hear the outcome. “One parent told me that I saved her daughter’s life,” said Larsen. It’s wonderful to see them be successful and like going to school. Just knowing that what I’m doing is helping them build those strong resiliency skills and that what I’m doing is helping any kid is amazing.”
Larsen is humbled by the award. “I feel like in our field we’re not ones who want attention,” she said. “We’re here for the kids but the recognition is very validating and very special.”