Shawna Ferstl Gilbert
District Name: Warren County Public School District since August 2010
Total Years Practicing School Psychology: 19 years
Graduate Program: Graduated with Ed.S. degree from Western Kentucky University in the summer of 1998. Completed my internship year in Phoenix, Arizona.
Meaningful experience with a student, family, staff member, or administrator
Early in my career when I was working in Phoenix, Arizona, I had a principal that mentored me. I talked to him about situations and asked what he thought I needed to do. But he would never really give a response. So one day I asked him why he would not be direct and answer me. He said, “because you know what the right thing to do is.” That helped me realize that I had the ability to make decisions. It built my confidence. To this day, I am not afraid to make a decision because I always advocate for the best interest of the student.
Throughout my career at different jobs, I have learned to appreciate my colleagues and their knowledge. I also gain insights through informal trainings, professional committees, and consultations. Learning from others is a vital strategy that I continue to live by.
Hopes for the future of school psychology
I hope that the profession continues to entice undergraduate students. The best decision I made in my educational career was to become a school psychologist. I love the ability to learn new things each day and at every job. I have found work across the country and internationally. I hope that school psychologist and professors in school psychology programs continue to encourage school psychologists to be more than just special education test-givers. We, as school psychologists, are like detectives. We study and assess students and assist them in becoming the best that they can. We need to be the catalyst for change...whether it be for improved school culture, increase in mental health services, improve acceptance of inclusion for students, etc.
Goals for yourself (personal or professional)
My goal is to continue to make a difference for students, families, educators, and our profession. I want find an area of need and use my expertise and collaborate with others to help make a difference. My professional goal is to draft and propose a guidance document to Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Association for Psychologists in Schools (KAPS) for how to evaluate English Learners (EL) for special education. Using the discrepancy tables is not technically sound with EL students due to cultural and linguistic biases, thus using a Response to Intervention (RTI) model is most appropriate. Numerous other states offer a guidance document on how to evaluate EL students for special education. With the significant increase of immigrants and refugees in Kentucky, our state needs to address these needs. Thus, collaborating with other school psychologists specifically trained in this area, we can develop a guidance document to propose to KDE and KAPS, ultimately developing a protocol for Kentucky school psychologists to implement when evaluating EL students for special education.
Apollo 13 - “Failure is not an option.” But then I saw Pakistan's Iron Lady, Muniba Mazari. I changed my mind and favorite quote to “Failure is an option, but giving up is not.”
Favorite movies include Dreamer and Spare Parts. The underdog wins by using their adversity, creativity, and ability to adapt. We learn a lot from failure, and it takes strong character to get back up and not give up.
Unique talent or interest
I really enjoy baking in the kitchen with my daughters. I have also started beekeeping last spring. It was scary at first, but I have overcome my fear of the bees. They are an interesting species that has adapted and lived since the dinosaurs were here. Learning that they were endangered and how that would impact our food source and lives, I decided to become a beekeeper. I’m definitely considered a new beekeeper, yet I’m learning and will continue to learn with the help of my bee mentors. I also love spending time outdoors with my family and playing with our horses and animals. Interesting fact: My daughters found jellyfish in our family pond. Yes, freshwater jellyfish are real, and we registered our family pond as a national site for freshwater jellyfish.
Your hero/influential person in your life and reason(s) why
1. My parents have always been influential in my life. They have raised me to have strong character and leadership skills. I have always been strong willed and lead by example. I do not seek notoriety, yet I do seek respect from my colleagues and teammates. My parents instilled in me to give 110% to whatever activity I was doing and don’t give up. They taught me to be a good sport if I was unsuccessful and to learn from mistakes. My parents also allowed me to explore and take adventures, but reminded me that family will always be there for me. Family comes first and is the core of who I am.
2. Dr. Carl Myers at Western Kentucky University has influenced me in my professional career. He instilled in his first year graduate students that we could “mold our role (as a school psychologist) into what you want it to be.” I have always held on to that sentiment. I continue to pursue things that interest me and that I can make a difference outside of the typical role that is expected of me in this position.
My career as a school psychologist has taken me to many destinations and with diverse experiences. I have worked in Phoenix, Arizona where I was able to learn my role as a new school psychologist by day, and hike the mountains and desert in the evening. Then I moved to the Marshall Islands to practice school psychology and was able to ride my bike to work and then rollerblade on the island and scuba dive after hours. When I moved to Colorado and worked as a school psychologist, I was able to again work with diverse populations during the day and ski and hike mountains on weekends. One job in Colorado took me out in the plains where antelope herds ran. Currently, I work in Bowling Green, Kentucky where my extended family lives. I work at a very diverse school that has children from 32 different countries and 50 different languages. I love learning about new cultures and individuals’ life stories. Every job I have had, I have learned something new. The school psychology profession has endless opportunities. If you love working with children, are self- motivated, organized, and love to make a difference in helping others, then this career is for you. Remember, you can make your role what you want it to be.