Mrs. Wessell
Wessell  School Psychologist

River Trails Middle School

I am a 29-year veteran in my field, currently serving my 16th year in School District 26.  I am state- and nationally certified.  I hold a bachelor's degree in psychology from Carthage College and masters in school psychology from Illinois State University ​and​ in educational leadership from Concordia University.  I am the mother of four "twenty-somethings".  I enjoy travel and reading.

What IS a School Psychologist?

A school psychologist has specialized training in both psychology and education. She uses her training and skills to team with educators, parents, and other mental health professionals to ensure that every child learns in a safe, healthy and supportive environment. A school psychologist tailors her services to the particular needs of each child and each situation. She provides consultation to educators, parents, administrators, and community services. The psychologist may assess cognitive, processing, academic, and social-emotional functions using a wide variety of techniques and instruments. She evaluates eligibility for special services, may provide counseling to children—either individually or in small groups—and to parents, intervenes in crisis situations, and provides inservice to staff.


Psychological Evaluation

When their child is referred for a “psychological evaluation,” parents may be upset, confused or worried. It is important to remember that a referral to a psychologist for an evaluation merely means that you or your child’s teachers need more information in order to better understand how to help him or her achieve success at home or at school. If your child is referred to a school psychologist for testing at school, you must give your permission before any testing can begin. It is important that parents understand why testing is requested, what areas of learning and development will be addressed by testing, what types of tests will be given and by whom, and how the test results will be used to help your child. You will be invited by the school to a conference to discuss the referral.

There are two major types of measurements. When academic performance appears as the primary concern, psychologists usually use tests which measure intellectual ability and processing skills as well as tests of achievement in basic subjects such as reading and math. When social/emotional behaviors appear as major concerns, an assessment of emotional status may be included.

Intellectual evaluation: Assessing intellectual abilities is more complex than the mere search for an IQ score. It involves formal tests which usually reveal these primary features: profiles of intellectual strengths and weaknesses; unique learning styles; factors that interfere with learning; and strategies for improving academic performance.

Social-emotional evaluation: Some of information gained from assessing social and emotional status includes: how well children relate with peers and adults; level of self concept; determining need for further referral regarding conditions such as depression, phobias and thought disorders. Materials used here may include background history, student interviews, parent and teacher conferences, classroom observations, tests which explore thoughts, feelings and moods, and behavior checklists.

Childhood Stress

Excerpts from article by David Streight, Portland, OR and Ellis P. Copeland, University of Northern Colorado appearing in National Association of School Psychologists’ Helping Children at Home and School, 1998

While different individuals find different events more or less stressful, stress in children is usually caused by:

  • New, unfamiliar or unpredictable situations
  • Unclear expectations
  • Expectations of something unpleasant (e.g., pain)
  • Fear of failure (socially or academically)
  • Major developmental “hurdles” (e.g., moving from elementary to middle school)


Symptoms of stress in children: Symptoms of stress in young children may be difficult to distinguish from symptoms of minor illness. Be alert for signs of irritability, sleeping, toileting or eating difficulties, fearfulness, difficulties adapting to change in routine and clinginess, or use of key words such as “sad” or “afraid.” As children get older, their responses to stress may include more attention-seeking behaviors, mood changes, avoidance of certain activities, isolation, school refusal or changes in the quality of schoolwork, sleeping difficulties and physical complaints (headache, stomachache). Seek help for your child if the symptoms persist or you are not able to identify the basis for these concerns. Your school psychologist, social worker, or family physician can help locate appropriate resources.

What can I do as a parent?

  • Do not place undue expectations on your child. We all want our children to be successful, and we should have expectations for their behavior and performance. But when stress starts to show itself, it may be time to question if our expectations are too high.
  • Listen to your child when he or she describes stressful events or situations. Being a good listener will reassure your child that you are there with love and support.
  • Teach your child good problem-solving skills. Help your child learn to break big problems into smaller ones that can be dealt with one at a time. Talk with them about how you have handled stressful situations.
  • Rehearse stressful situations. Go through the situation together in a “trial run.” Possible difficulties can be “problem solved” together.
  • Be aware of “irrational thinking” patterns. If you become aware of harmful beliefs (e.g., “I need to get this whole list of things finished right now”), help your child look at life, and him or herself, more realistically and more positively.
  • Relaxation/Visualization. There are a number of good relaxation tapes on the market that emphasize importance of sitting or lying down and breathing slowly from deep in the stomach and then imagining one self in a “favorite place.” Exercise is also a good way to “relax”.