Interview with School Psychologist, Kellie - Ann Brown Campbell

Special Education plays a key role in national development as it offers students an opportunity to overcome challenges in the learning environment and adopt functional skills for positive development. It often involves a multidiciplinary effort on the part of many professionals who work with these children and their families. Join Caribbean Partners for Educational Progress and Mrs. Brown Campbell as we explore the role of the School Psychologist in providing special education services in Jamaica and the challenges that exist in the sector.

1)What do School Psychologists do and what role do they play in the special education sector?

School Psychologists help children and youth succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. They collaborate with educators, parents, and other professionals in an effort to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all students that strengthen connections between home and school. School psychologists are highly trained in both psychology and education. They are specifically trained to engage in and speak to data-based decision making, consultation and collaboration, effective instruction, child development, special education policy and ethics, prevention, intervention, mental health, learning styles, behavior, research, and program evaluation. School Psychologists are specially trained to carry out psychoeducational assessments which is an assessment of psychological and academic skills. Psychological skills include, but are not limited to: intelligence, language skills, memory, processing of visual and auditory information, planning and reasoning abilities. Academic skills assessed would include: reading, mathematics, spelling, written expression, handwriting ability, listening comprehension and oral expression skills. School Psychologists are also trained to identify/diagnose children with a range of developmental, behavioural and academic disabilities, including learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning problems related to motivation and other social-emotional challenges.As can be seen, their role then in special education is integral from all angles- from identification to intervention to collaboration with home and school.

2) What are the common challenges that hinder quality service in special education sector?

There are a number of challenges that institutions in special education face that are unique to this sector. One of the main challenges faced by schools in catering for children with special needs is resources. Often schools are not adequately equipped with educational materials and equipment to cater to students with unique needs, especially those with physical disabilities. Additionally, classroom teachers typically are not adequately trained to meet the needs of children who have learning and other challenges. Hence, this greatly limits their capacity to reach and teach each child in their classroom in a fair manner. Coursework that exposes teachers to learning and behavioural challenges is very limited in their Teachers’ Colleges. In addition to the fact that every class will have at least 1 child with special needs, class sizes are very large (in some Primary schools as large as 60 students in one class). In such a situation, teachers unfortunately are faced with the hard decision of focusing on the majority and ensuring students can do well on high stakes exams, OR, he/she can focus on the 1 to 5 students who need extra help at the potential detriment of most of the class not doing well and subsequently leading to the teacher receiving weak reviews. In every classroom the teacher has diverse learners who have diverse needs, and if teachers are not adequately prepared to meet the challenge, they will be fighting what may be termed as a “losing battle” each and every day.

Another major challenge faced by Jamaican schools in catering for students with special needs is the fact that there does not yet exist a legal policy which will stipulate classification and subsequent allocation of accommodations and services for children with special needs in the mainstream classroom. As such, schools do not have any adequate guidance in the process of identifying and subsequently providing appropriate interventions, accomodations and resources for children with special needs. A national Special Education Policy is currently still being drafted, however this is an issue that needs to be resolved without reservation and as soon as possible.

3) What is your advice for parents/ caregivers who suspect that their child has a learning and or developmental disability?

My advice is to seek help as soon as possible. It is better to be safe than sorry. Many persons believe that children should be allowed to grow and eventually they will “catch up”. My opinion is “What if they never do”. If the child has a real challenge, which most times is neurologically based, without formally identifying the challenges and addressing them in effective and research based ways, there is no guarantee that the child will be able to accomplish their highest potential. There are many professionals in the special education sector that parents/caregivers can turn to for support and information on how to move forward with their child, regardless of the potential disability. A parent tends to intuitively know when “something is not right”. I would urge parents to listen to their intuition and even if the child is very young (even as young as toddlerhood), get the child formally assessed. The best information parents and caregivers are able to get out of assessments is identifying strengths and weaknesses that will help to direct intervention planning for that child.

4) What are some of the misconceptions concerning children receiving special education services?

There is unfortunately still the misconception that children who have special needs will “pass on” their disability to other typically developing children. I have been privileged to be affiliated with and employed to an inclusive Early Childhood institution for the past 7 years, and I am yet to see where typically developing students have been worse off or adapted negative behaviours and traits because of being educated alongside children with special needs.

I think many persons believe that the disability IS the person, instead of A PART of who the child is. This is the whole reason behind “person first language”. That is, one should say, “a child with autism” instead of “an autistic child”, because the autism is only part and parcel of who the child is. I would love to see us move even further along in this country in understanding that children with special needs can accomplish many things, as long as we do not place “handicaps” in their way and hinder them from realizing their highest potential. In line with this viewpoint, assessments and interventions are still seen as “unimportant” to many, especially for children who have learning disabilities, ADHD and other behavioural or social emotional diagnoses. However, if a child has diabetes or some other medical condition, do we not do all we need to in order to treat the problem. So it should be as well with these lower incidence diagnoses, but diagnoses that will have a lasting impact on their life and ability to function in the wider society.

5) Once a child has been referred to a School Psychologist, what can parents expect?

First of all, the referral has no significance if the parent does not actually follow through with the referral. However, once an appointment is made, the parent can expect to meet for a detailed interview with the School Psychologist to discuss background information of their child. The child is then observed in their school setting (if necessary) and a formal psychoeducational assessment is conducted. From this assessment, the School Psychologist is able to determine what abilities related to learning may be resulting in any noted challenges or delays. An important part of this assessment process is also feedback from teachers and other critical persons involved in the child’s life. After this detailed assessment of the child’s abilities and academic skills is done a formal meeting is held with the parents/caregivers where the results and interpretation are discussed at length. Additionally, relevant recommendations are made as it relates to next steps for the child and how to potentially remediate any challenges noted, as well as hone in on strengths identified. When possible and given permission by parents, the School Psychologist may also make contact with other stakeholders such as the school or other professionals (e.g. Speech therapist, behaviour therapist etc.) to ensure that the child will have the necessary provisions to address their needs.

6) From your perspective, what can be done to improve special education services in Jamaica?

Jamaica’s Ministry of Education recently formed a Transformation Unit, which has been mandated to “transform and reform” the nation’s education system. Subsequently, there has been a recent push to have all suitable professionals who would be involved in assessment or intervention of children registered with the government. This is a necessary service which is needed in an effort to address the needs of students with unique challenges in the classroom. Professionals such as School/Educational Psychologists, Clinical Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Pathologists, etc. will be indispensable in our diverse classrooms. Such professionals would not only be offering interventions to students, but also serving as resource personnel for teachers who so often feel like they are “all alone” in the classroom. In more developed countries such as The United States of America and Canada, policies have been in operation for years, empowering the rights of students and families with special needs. As a result, there have been laws established in the United States that mandates that all students in the public school system have the right to assessment and intervention. In fact, once a student is referred to the School Psychologist of a school district, there is a 30 day deadline in which that child must be assessed and an Individual Education Programme (IEP) developed for that child. This IEP is a legally binding document, which means that the school and all stakeholders involved are obligated to provide any services and/or accommodations outlined and recommended in the assessment report/IEP. Jamaica and the Caribbean at large will need to move in this direction of seeing special education as a right of all individuals who meet requirements and criteria outlined.


Kellie - Anne Brown Campbell, M.Ed.
School Psychologist

Mrs. Brown Campbell has always had a passion for and a vested interest in special education and led to her being concerned about how these students’ needs were being addressed by those involved. As a result, she pursued a career in psychology at the University of the West Indies, where she graduated with first class honours with a BSc. in psychology. She worked for one year after university at the McCam Child Development Centre as a preschool teacher, which concretized her interest in working with special needs children, as this is an inclusive educational environment, serving children who are typically developing and those with special needs from 0 to 8 years. In 2005, she received a full scholarship from the Organization of American States which facilitated her pursuing a Master of Education degree in School Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Since then, Mrs. Brown Campbell has worked as a School Psychologist at an Early Childhood Institution (ECI) in St. Andrew and participated in various projects commissioned by the McCam Centre including a programme highlighting the social emotional challenges of young children after natural disasters, the joint project with the Ministry of Education and Shortwood Teachers’ College in developing model learning environments in Early Childhood Institutions around the island. She also conducts guest lectures and taught courses at the Mico University College in the Special Education Department.

Mrs. Brown Campbell has a particular interest in children with developmental disabilities, specifically autism spectrum disorders as well as the development of reading and written expression skills in school-aged children.