Passion fuels the great work of State School Psychologist of the Year Kristen Berwald
When Kristen Berwald went to college, she didn't know the profession existed. She knew she wanted to be an educator and she had a deep interest in psychology, but she didn't discover the field until she was a college junior.
"I was actually interested in becoming a history teacher,” said Berwald, the 2020 State School Psychologist of the Year. "I was inspired by my teachers growing up and they led me to think about education. I wanted to work with children and make a difference the way my teachers had for me."
Berwald merged her interest in psychology with her inspiration for education to seek a graduate degree as a school psychologist. That launched her career at the Issaquah School District, where she has worked since 2005. She currently serves in a variety of buildings in their Early Childhood Special Education Program.
"I feel really passionately that children at a very young age need access to early intervention services so that they can make as much progress in their early development as possible, better preparing them for Kindergarten and future education services," noted Berwald. "Working at this level I spend a lot of time with parents of young children and with my coworkers, so it's very rewarding to work on a team of people to support these families."
In her ECSE role, Kristen works with children transitioning from birth to three early intervention services to determine what special education services they are eligible for at age three. Many of the children she works with have an identifiable significant disability or health problem in their first or second year of life. The families often arrive overwhelmed and unsure about what public school might look like for a preschooler with a disability. As part of a team to support the family, Kristen identifies what will work best for each individual student and helps create an Individualized Education Plan.
"Most of the families are so thankful to our team for our support walking them through this process that can sometimes feel scary," Kristen remarked. "We get feedback from the families that our team has made it a comfortable transition and prepared them for what to expect."
Berwald points to her teammates as critical to the success of the Issaquah ECE program. Each member of the IEP team brings their own unique skillset and strengths to the table to support each other and the ECSE families.
"That's how we can get through a lot — being able to rely on colleagues, whether same grade level team or a different profession within the school district or building," Berwald said, noting the shared goals of providing the best possible services to students. "Everyone has a perspective and experience and they can bring great ideas to the table to support kids."
Kristen was nominated by her colleagues because "she is kind and gentle, works effortlessly with young children, leads her teams effectively, and does an excellent job building rapport and relationships with the families she serves."”
When asked what motivates her, she quickly points to her passion for her work. "I’m very lucky to have found a job that I really enjoy. Do what you love if you can."