When she was younger, Annie Christenson (MA ’19, EdS ’20) rarely spoke up during classroom discussions. “During conferences, my teachers would tell my mother, ‘We really wish she’d share her thoughts more often,’” she says. More recently, the Robbinsdale school psychologist testified before the Minnesota legislature on behalf of MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support). She credits her time at CEHD and the colleagues with whom she found support for helping improve her confidence.
“During my time in graduate school, I was fortunate to be in a cohort of women who pushed me to be better every single day,” she says. “Who created a safe and supportive environment that gave me the courage to share my thoughts and ideas. I am forever indebted to the relationships I built with faculty and students—I continue to lean on them whether it be for consultation or just life advice.”
Prior to attending graduate school, Christenson served two years in the community service program AmeriCorps as a Promise Fellow, which involves providing academic and behavioral support to students.
“I really took to working with students one on one, getting the opportunity to build authentic and meaningful relationships with them and helping them figure out how they learn best,” she says. “I also really enjoyed attending problem-solving meetings and thinking about making changes at a systems level to better support the needs of students.”
A school psychologist mentored her while in AmeriCorps and this relationship whetted her appetite for the field. “I love the hustle and bustle of being a school psychologist, that our days never look the same,” she says. “I love that we get to wear many different hats in the building and that we are advocating for building a more equitable and inclusive school system for every student.”
In graduate school in the Department of Educational Psychology, Christenson helped with research projects related to social-emotional-behavioral assessments and interventions under the direction of Professor Faith Miller. She also was a member of the School Psychology Student Association and learned how to advocate for public education and students’ rights at a public policy institute hosted by the National Association of School Psychologists.
“These experiences shaped what I wanted to focus on in my work as a practitioner in schools,” she says. “Increasing access to mental health services for adolescents and promoting culturally relevant and restorative practices.”
Now in her fourth year as a school psychologist in Robbinsdale, Christenson says the job can be challenging and emotionally taxing. “Sometimes even isolating,” she adds. “But being in community with others who are advocating and uplifting change in the field is what sustains me to keep forging on.”
Every day Christenson and her colleagues make decisions that impact students’ educational careers. “My priority is to limit the amount of harm students are exposed to in what is very much a broken system,” she says.
She got her chance to address some of the inequities in the system recently when she was asked by a colleague to testify before the last Minnesota legislative session to advocate for statewide MTSS.
“This was always a dream of mine to do, partly to honor the quiet child that I used to be and to honor who she is now,” she says.
MTSS assists educators in applying targeted support to students with various needs. Christenson’s testimony helped move the needle toward statewide adoption of the system. “In the latest education omnibus bill, all Minnesota school districts and charter schools must be offered training and support in implementing MTSS,” she says. “It’s a really solid first step toward effectively and sustainably embedding the MTSS framework in Minnesota schools.”
Serving on the board of the Minnesota School Psychologists Association and as a member of its legislative committee, Christenson will be working tirelessly over the next few years to educate and support practitioners during this transition. Her experiences at CEHD will help.
“I often tell people that the school psychologists who were trained from CEHD are fully equipped to tackle the demands and challenges of working in education right now,” she says. “Outside of the foundational skills needed to be a school psychologist, I learned how to manage my own emotions and maintain control during crisis situations. I learned how to remain flexible even when there are competing demands. I learned how to avoid the sinkhole that is problem admiration and instead hone in on what we have control over, what we have the capacity to solve with the resources available to us.”
Learn more: edpsych.umn.edu/academics/school-psychology