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Increasing mental health support for Maine students

The Maine Department of Education and the University of Southern Maine are teaming up to increase the number of school psychologists.

ROCKPORT, Maine — The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one school psychologist per 500 students. In Maine, there is an average of one school psychologist per every 1500 students.

A partnership between the Maine Department of Education and the University of Southern Maine is looking to change that. The DOE and USM are in the first year of a partnership to train school psychologists by getting them into Maine schools.

For Camden Rockport Elementary School students, social-emotional learning has become part of their everyday life.

"[Like] identifying feelings, how to handle different situations," Chris Walker-Spencer, principal of Camden Rockport Elementary School, said. "It's one of the most important things we do. I mean, we have a school that's really focused on kindness and developing positive relationships."

Camden Rockport Elementary is one of the schools working with the DOE and USM to help train new school psychologists. In Rockport, a school psychology intern is spending the year with students there to learn the ropes and address student needs.

"We want to have highly-trained school psychologists and enough of them to be able to meet the needs of all the students in the state," Samantha Blair, a professor of school psychology at USM, said. 

During the pandemic, the need for mental health resources for children has only grown, while many mental health experts have not. And those experts are busy evaluating students who may have special needs or behavioral challenges instead of following up with all students.

Experts said there are two significant reasons for the need for more school psychologists.

"One [is] because of the shortage, and two, because of the backlog in evaluations, they're spending their time conducting evaluations," Gay Anne McDonald, executive director of Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, said. 

The DOE and USM are working to make sure all the social and emotional needs of students are met and are hopeful this program will do just that. 

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