Finding a Purpose: Relvas Thrives as School Psychologist

Like any other wide-eyed, 18-year old freshman, Vanessa Relvas ’12 didn't know exactly what she was in for when she stepped onto Scranton’s campus more than a decade ago.

But she had an inkling that her experience over the next four years would prove life-changing.

“I knew Scranton had a really good (psychology) program, and I really liked the intimacy of the (campus) environment  and getting individualized attention (in class),” Relvas said recently from her home in Hatboro. 

Relvas always had an interest in psychology and enrolled in Scranton’s program as a freshman. Later, through her class work, she discovered a career option previously unfamiliar to her -- school psychology.

“I didn't even know that was a thing until my junior year in Dr. (John) Norcross’ internship class, and one of my colleagues was shadowing a school psychologist,” she said. “That’s when I started looking into school psychology, and when I knew that was the trajectory I wanted to take."

Balancing Multiple Responsibilities

Relvas went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Delaware. Since 2017, she has been an elementary school psychologist in the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Elsmere, Delaware.

She wears many hats within the scope of her job.

But that’s nothing new -- Relvas has been wearing many hats since her days at Scranton. While on campus, she took part in multiple opportunities. 

Not only was she active within the Psychology Department, but she also joined the University of Scranton Players. She participated in on- and off-stage roles with every performance the group staged during her four years here.

“She pursued her career interest in psychology with vigor -- excelling in her courses, taking on leadership roles as president of Psi Chi, and as a mentor to incoming students -- but she also made time to pursue her passion for theater,” said Professor Jessica Nolan, Ph.D., who employed Relvas as a teaching assistant during her time on campus. “I was always impressed with Vanessa's ability to manage her time for maximum productivity and enjoyment.”

Dedication to Helping Children

At Red Clay, Relvas is one of two psychologists at the elementary school level. Her job duties change by the day, week, and month.

“There is a need (for two elementary school psychologists) because we are in a school district that has a lot of students with special education needs and a lot of behavioral difficulties, as well,” she said. “So, a big part of my job is to evaluate students who may be eligible for special education services. I administer standardized tests with them. I interview parents and teachers, we do observations on them, and get as much information as I can.

“I also develop and implement behavior support plans. Those are for kids who struggle with social-emotional difficulties or with behavioral difficulties. The primary goal is to determine “when are these behaviors happening, what are the triggers, and what interventions can we put in place to minimize them and make them eventually disappear.”

Outside of these main job responsibilities, Relvas conducts individual counseling with students and consults with teachers. Finally, Relvas serves on Red Clay’s problem solving and MTSS leadership team, which provides targeted support to struggling students.

While Relvas admits that the job does have its challenges, she wouldn’t trade it for any other profession in the world, and thanks to The University of Scranton, she discovered a career she plans to stay in for a very, very long time.

“I love working with families, especially with students who have more challenges,” she said. “It’s difficult work, but I love working in a group and being collaborative. I love, obviously, working with kids."