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School psychology graduate student attends advocacy institute in Washington, D.C.

Courtney Smith, far right, takes a picture in front of the U.S. Capitol with her Georgia colleagues.

Throughout her graduate education at Georgia Southern University, Courtney Smith has become an advocate for her future career field of school psychology.

“Not many people know what school psychologists are,” Smith said. “They often get us confused with school counselors, and that is why it is so important to advocate for the profession and awareness of our role in the schools.”

Smith serves as the University’s student representative on the Georgia Association of School Psychologists (GASP) Executive Board and has been an active member of the Georgia Southern School Psychology Student Association (SPSA). Throughout her time in the Educational Specialist program, Smith has participated in career events, speaking to prospective applicants and coordinating campus activities for School Psychology Awareness Week.

It was not until recently that Smith realized that she could do more. After being nominated by a faculty member, Smith received the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Graduate Student Advocacy in Action Scholarship. This award provided free registration for the annual Public Policy Institute. A partnership between NASP and Georgia Washington University, the Institute offers intensive learning experiences that help build foundational knowledge of education public policy and grassroots advocacy skills.

Courtney Smith

“Prior to attending the Institute, all of my advocacy efforts had been trying to recruit students to our program and trying to let people in different fields know what school psychologists do,” Smith said. “But the Institute really shifted me towards legislative advocacy and the importance of legislation and policies that affect our students and their access to mental health services.”

Held July 16-18 in Washington, D.C., the Public Policy Institute culminated with participants visiting Capitol Hill where they met with representatives and staff members from their regional districts.

“The main thing I advocated for was the Increasing Access to Mental Health in Schools Act, Smith said. “This act looks at lowering the ratios of students to school psychologists, school social workers and school counselors in schools.”

Smith explained that NASP recommends school psychologists serve 500 to 700 students for a comprehensive mental health service.

“In Georgia, school psychologists are only funded one to every 2,475 students,” Smith said. “It’s frightening to think about when you need to provide service and support to that many students. It’s really about meeting the needs of the children.”

Since attending the Public Policy Institute, Smith, who is scheduled to graduate in fall 2018, now says she plans to expand her advocacy for the school psychology field.

“Sometimes in education, we think we are not supposed to be political,” she said. “But I think it is important to know that there are policies being made that could either really help or harm children in our schools. The Institute really inspired me to bring these skills back on a state and local level and be an active voice for children on a legislative platform.”

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/Research institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving more than 27,000 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit


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