GORHAM – Maine’s school psychologists provide a safety net of services to meet the needs of students who are struggling in school. Through assessments, counseling and other interventions, school psychologists work to keep students in school so they can graduate.

Since 1989, when a school psychology training program was launched at the University of Southern Maine, the number of school psychologists has more than quadrupled.

With that increase, there has been a corollary reduction in costs for students who had previously been sent out of their district or out of Maine to very expensive residential treatment programs.

Notably, according to the Maine Department of Education, the total number of students receiving special education services in Maine has steadily decreased since 2004, while at the same time, the number of school psychologists has actually increased.

Using their expertise in the field, school psychologists are able to assist schools in providing programs for students with wide-ranging difficulties so that students can stay in Maine and graduate. One school psychologist can save a school district hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-district placement costs by helping to develop and support interventions.

Having school psychologists is an investment in the future of Maine’s children. By anticipating the needs of students from diverse backgrounds, and making effective instruction for struggling students available in local schools, all of Maine benefits.

Every high school dropout harms Maine’s economy. Every student who stays in school and graduates boosts the prospects for a stronger Maine economy with an educated work force. Our children need school psychologists, who are there to respond to small and large crises and keep students in school.

Many may not know how a school psychologist is different from the other types of psychologists, clinical and counseling.

School psychologists were among the first psychology practitioners, with examples dating to the early 20th century. After World War II, many more psychology-training programs were established, and clinical and counseling psychologists became more numerous.

Still, school psychologists kept working behind the scenes to support students who struggle in school.

In 1975, Congress passed the Education of the Handicapped law, which guaranteed the right to a public education for all children. School psychologists then began doing more assessments, but this was just one part of their work.

Today, they serve schools in many ways, all focusing on supporting students so they can stay in school and graduate.

In 2010, the National Association of School Psychologists issued a revised comprehensive model for school psychology practice.

This model incorporates all the many tasks and roles that school psychologists have, including schoolwide leadership and planning, consultation, counseling, assessment and intervention, among others.

School psychologists have a role in supporting all students through prevention efforts like positive reinforcement and response to intervention, which gives additional support to students testing below grade level in a given subject.

Notably, Maine was the first state to adopt the NASP Comprehensive Model as the standard for school psychology practice. Examples of student outcomes resulting from Maine’s school psychologists include benefits in academic and behavioral skills.

In 2007, one Maine school psychologist oversaw the implementation of a reading intervention with first-graders.

A participating student had both reading and behavior problems. After a number of weeks of intervention, the psychologist met with the student for some assessment and noticed that both his reading and behavior had improved.

She mentioned to the student how she noticed these improvements, and he replied, “Everyone has noticed.”

In 2009, another school psychologist worked closely with a kindergarten student and his family to treat toileting problems. Some teachers had indicated that the student should not be in a public school because of his problem.

Using an effective intervention, the student was able to develop appropriate toileting skills and stay in school.

This year, a high school student was referred to special education by teachers who thought he needed to be in an out-of-district day treatment program.

The school psychologist developed a positive behavior support plan for the student and he has been able to be successful in his home school.

There are 245 school psychologists in Maine, and a majority graduated from the state’s only school psychology program, at USM.

This program provides comprehensive preparation for school psychology practice. In the last five years, 100 percent of graduates have found employment before or immediately after degree completion.

Both nationally and in Maine there is a shortage of school psychologists, and the USM program seeks to keep up with the demand. Ensuring that Maine will have a steady supply of school psychologists will depend on adequate support of and investment in our program.

Without school psychologists, Maine’s children are made more vulnerable, and they may not have the support they need to stay in school and graduate.

Rachel Brown is an associate professor of educational psychology and exceptionality at the University of Southern Maine School of Education in Gorham