Getting on the Right Path
Class of 2010
M.Ed. and Ed.S. (School Psychology)
Licensed School Psychologist
Fort Wayne Community Schools
Benjamin Cunningham sits at the table for some very difficult conversations. As a school psychologist, he is responsible for assessing struggling students at four elementary schools in Fort Wayne, Ind. When students are having emotional, behavioral, academic, or cognitive challenges, it also falls to Benjamin to create a plan forward — and to explain that plan to a child’s parents.
“I recently had to tell parents that, based on the picture we have now, a high school diploma may not be a realistic goal for their son. In those cases we want to be focusing on life skills to make sure we’re preparing him to have an independent life.” Benjamin says. “There are often tears, because this is very big news. At the same time, there is also gratitude that at least we have a plan, rather than continuing to wonder why there’s not much progress and he’s not achieving.”
Benjamin works with students from age two through fifth grade, when kids’ minds are young and developing. It’s a crucial time for school psychologists, because most students’ needs are first identified at this time. The earlier that schools can identify and account for potential stumbling blocks, Benjamin explains, the more successful students can be.
Benjamin’s mentor, Valpo professor Christina Grabarek, instilled in him a motto he still follows: “Whatever you do, get into your position and make yourself indispensable.” So, he applies his knowledge of child psychopathology and assessment techniques, but also uses the relational skills he learned in his counseling classes at Valpo.
Sometimes, though, Benjamin is glad when his help is no longer needed. He recently sat down with the family of an elementary school student who had been placed into self-contained classroom for students with emotional disabilities. After working in that atmosphere, the student’s reading, speaking, and social abilities strengthened so rapidly that he was able to move back into a traditional classroom setting.
“We can always change plans,” Benjamin says. “In everything we do, we’re trying to set kids up for success. That’s our ultimate goal.”