Posted 11:27 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023
Her investment in school psychology spans decades at the local, state and national level
As a University of Wisconsin-Madison student three decades ago, Betty DeBoer got a strong sense of her strengths and interests by volunteering 10 hours a week at child and adult agencies. She was searching for a career that could impact the quality of life of all people, especially people with disabilities, disadvantage, or other challenges. She chose a career path in school psychology.
The idea of reaching the general population in schools rather than working for a clinic or an agency intrigued DeBoer. “As a professor and a school psychologist, I could reach many more k-12 students both through my own work as a consultant and through my students' work in the field”, she says.
Today, DeBoer can look back on a career where she trained hundreds of school psychologists and reached thousands of k-12 students experiencing trauma, having difficulty with managing their behavior, or struggling with developmental disabilities. DeBoer also reached hundreds of teachers and administrators who were seeking more positive ways to help k-12 students reach their potential or who were looking to keep their schools safe in the wake of school shootings.
The Wisconsin School Psychologists Association recognized DeBoer’s exceptional accomplishments by presenting her with the Lifetime Achievement Award in October at their annual conference at the Radisson Hotel in La Crosse. This Distinguished Service Award recognizes people who deserve special attention by virtue of their broad and significant contributions to the welfare of children and the field of school psychology. This is the first time in the last 10 years and the fourth time in over 20 years that the award has been given.
“School psychology in Wisconsin today has been shaped by Dr. Betty DeBoer," says Katie Johnson, Ed.S., president, Wisconsin School Psychologists Association. "She is the consummate practitioner leader. Betty has trained graduate and undergraduate students who are currently working across the state. She has been a leader in the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association (WSPA) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Her fingerprints are all over what we do as school psychologists in Wisconsin and beyond."
Not only did DeBoer, a UWL professor emeritus, help train over two decades of competent school psychologists, but also her consulting work with various La Crosse area schools helped introduce trauma informed care to the local education community and across the state. This practice, now more commonly called, “healing-centered engagement,” is an approach used to serve people affected by trauma. Adults in a trauma informed school are trained on how to make school a physically and psychologically safe space for all children, including children who may be living with past or current traumatic stress. Trauma informed schools provide proper support for students who may be in a variety of situations such as living in a highly chaotic home, being unhoused, experiencing significant loss or family changes, surviving a disaster or accident, having serious medical issues, living with attachment-related issues that started around birth, or any of many other potentially traumatizing situations.
DeBoer worked with Chileda’s former Director of Counseling and Advocacy, Chris Nelson, and other local mental health professionals to train all pupil services staff members at the La Crosse Schools in trauma-informed-care over the course of a year. They did this service for free as they felt it was critical. Then, DeBoer worked closely with Northside Elementary School’s administrators, teachers, librarians, teaching assistants, pupil services personnel and other staff in their journey toward becoming trauma-informed over three years.
“Her wide range of knowledge and skills were an invaluable asset to our school community in every way,” says Melani Fay, Northside school counselor in a nomination letter. “We are a better school because of Betty.”
A career embracing community connections
DeBoer served as a UWL faculty member from fall 1997 to May 2020, and many of her teaching contributions extended outside the classroom and into the local community. In addition to her work with public schools, she built partnerships locally with Chileda and with Coulee Connections to help with behavior management and trauma-informed-care approaches. At Chileda, a local residential and day treatment facility that services students with severe and multiple disabilities, UWL students consulted with teachers to develop and implement interventions for students with complex challenges. This created applied experiences related to assessment, intervention, training, and practice for UWL graduate students in the school psychology program while providing Chileda staff alternative ways to support their students. DeBoer and a team of her UWL undergraduate and graduate students prepared for six months then comprehensively trained Chileda staff in trauma informed practices across a series of sessions. Later, DeBoer’s students provided similar trainings at Coulee Connections and other schools under her supervision.
At the state level, DeBoer and other invited leaders worked with the Department of Public Instruction on best practices in functional behavior assessment and intervention, trauma informed care, and school shooter prevention. These work groups pulled together and developed resources and trainings that were used across the state to guide Wisconsin educators in best practices in these areas.
Also at the state level, DeBoer provided ongoing leadership in the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association (WSPA) where she served as President and Secretary, where she chaired the Professional Preparation and Training, Legislative, and Public Relations Committees, and where she served as the Coulee Region Representative across her career. As the president of WSPA, she focused on mental health, trauma, and school crisis prevention and intervention.
At the national level, DeBoer was active in the National School Psychologists Association (NASP). DeBoer was a regional representative for the central region of NASP, where she received leadership and other training and where she served as a liaison between NASP leaders and state leaders in the Midwest. DeBoer brought legislative strategies back to Wisconsin from her training as a regional representative. WSPA members traveled to the state capitol annually to advocate for mental health and other services in schools. Legislators who became familiar with DeBoer asked for her advice on legislation ranging from bullying to confidentiality to mental health.
DeBoer is extremely grateful to all her colleagues and collaborators across her decades in the field.
“I was thrilled to learn that I was being honored with the WSPA Lifetime Achievement Award," she says. "That’s when I decided that maybe I had reached my goal of making an impact after all.”