Fernandez National School Psychologist of the Year

Mr. Fernandez

Benjamin Fernandez, a school psychologist at Heritage High School and Cool Spring Elementary, is the 2012 National School Psychologist of the Year as selected by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

He was formally presented this award on Wednesday, February 22nd, at the NASP National Convention in Philadelphia. This award is presented to a practicing school psychologist who has demonstrated a unique level of excellence in providing psychological services; in demonstrating ethical and professional behavior; and in earning the respect of school staff, parents, and students. 
Fernandez has worked for Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) for the past 10 years as a nationally certified school psychologist. He also was recognized as the 2010 Virginia School Psychologist of the Year. Since then, Fernandez has been elected as a regional representative to the Virginia Academy of School Psychologists. 

“It’s still kind of sinking in,” Fernandez said recently of receiving the national award. “One of the things my wife kind of beats me up about is that I don’t think of what I’ve done.”

Fernandez said he thinks about the same things every day: “My whole focus is ‘How can I serve?’…When I wake up there are two things I think about: ‘How can I support my family?’ and ‘How can I serve?’ ”

Fernandez said he thinks any of the psychologists he works with could have won the national award “I think we’re all really exceptional. I don’t know how they picked me to be honest.”

Fernandez provides service to LCPS students in a number of areas.

One of the areas he works in extensively is determining a student’s eligibility for special education services. Doing evaluations to figure out what is the thing that is preventing a student from accessing the curriculum; whether it be academic difficulty, emotional attention, social skills. What is going on that is preventing them from being successful?”

Part of the special education process is educating people about what it entails.

“Special education is not just tutoring. It’s not just extra help. There’s a serious, serious issue that’s disabling a student, whatever that might be that’s preventing them from independently accessing the curriculum. It requires a different approach to education. It requires specialized instruction.”

An area where Fernandez has become a national leader is that of crisis intervention. He has served as leader of a six-member LCPS crisis team and was an author of the LCPS Crisis Team Manual. Fernandez is a nationally certified trainer in crisis intervention and recovery.

When a school is struck by a tragedy such as a suicide or accidental death, Fernandez said the mission for he and his team is clear. “We manage the emotional response for the teachers and the parents and the students.

“The primary goal is, ultimately, to get the school back to pre-crisis functioning.

“If we don’t address that situation, those kids could possibly be so emotionally distraught or upset they could be missing instruction. Or, in the cases of suicide, catching those other kids who may be contemplating suicide, making sure they get the right support.”

When he and his team speak with students and parents after a tragedy, Fernandez said their mission is clear.

“What happened; clarifying the facts. With cell phones, Facebook, rumors start going crazy.” Fernandez and his team give grieving students and parents facts so that they don’t become emotionally devastated by rumor. With the facts on the table, counselors will start exploring the emotions of those who come to them for guidance.

“We’ll educate them about what they’re feeling. ‘In this kind of situation, that’s normal. That’s what’s to be expected.’ A lot of students and parents, and even teachers, feel like the emotions can be so intense… that it may feel like they’re losing their mind…We guide them to ‘How to we manage and cope with this?’ If we come to a point where they’re not coping with this and managing well, they may need another level of intervention.”   

Fernandez also has provided classroom lessons on suicide prevention, depression awareness and resiliency to enhance the health curriculum. He serves as a coach and team member for Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) initiatives at Heritage and Cool Spring.

In addition, Fernandez counsels students with emotional disabilities. He works with Heritage’s School within a School along with a social worker. “These kids have significant issues with behavior and social skills. I touch base with those kids. They know they can come to me if they’re having a really bad day.”

One thing Fernandez said his award does is focus attention on support staff that are not teachers, but play a vital role in the classroom.

“The biggest misconception is that school-based folks are all teachers. There’s also us and we’re all intertwined. We all play a role in this collaborative effort to educate children from pre-school to graduation…

“Even though I’m not a teacher, I do a lot of educating. ‘This is what a disability is’ regardless of what that disability is. ‘Here is how it may impact your son or daughter. This is how we can help your son or daughter.’ ”

Fernandez’s wife, Michelle, also is a school psychologist. She came to LCPS before her husband. Ben Fernandez was first offered a job with LCPS while he and Michelle were on their honeymoon; surprisingly his new wife said he shouldn’t take it. “Michelle said ‘I don’t think I can work with you’ and I had to turn them down.”

Two years later, Fernandez accepted a job with LCPS (proving the honeymoon wasn’t over). The couple has two daughters, Jill and Meredith.