This year, Hannah Cunningham joins Ryan Long on the ORHS staff as a school Psychologist.
Ever since she was a kid, Cunningham has known she has wanted to work with people. “Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher, but loved my psychology courses in college,” said Cunningham. “I looked into becoming a school psychologist, and am very happy with my choice! It is a great combination of education and psychology.” Coming from a family of teachers, Cunningham has been surrounded by people who value education her entire life. “My grandma was a librarian, my grandfather was a biology professor, my mom was a teacher, and my aunt still is. Hearing their stories of helping students with few resources in creative ways is inspiring to me,” she said.
While Cunningham is new to ORHS in her role as a psychologist, she isn’t new to the Oyster River community. Cunningham spent a year in the ORCSD as a school psychologist intern. Her time as an intern was divided between ORHS and Mohariment so that she was able to gain experience at both levels. Cunningham said, “I learned so much during this internship because something new and different happened every day.”
Before joining the ORCSD however, Cunningham was a paraeducator for two years while attending graduate school at night.“I really enjoyed this job because it offered direct contact with a small number of students during classroom lessons, special education services, and recreation time. It also offered me insight as to how important paras are to the educational system,” said Cunningham. After interning at Oyster River, Cunningham spent a year working in a different district. “Last year, I worked as a school psychologist in another seacoast district, but am happy to be back at ORHS this year.”
Cunningham isn’t just a part of the Oyster River community. According to Long, “she is involved with our state and national association and can be found at all of our regional school psych meetings, where we get together with other seacoast school psychologists. I knew her from there before she started at ORHS.”
Cunnigham currently works in school at ORHS four days a week and works remotely for one. As a school psychologist, Cunnignham’s job is to connect with the community. “My role as a school psychologist allows me to partner with students, families, teachers, and community providers in order to best support the academic, social, behavioral, and emotional needs of ORCSD’s students,” said Cunningham. “As part of this team, I can offer direct support in terms of evaluation, intervention, consultation, and counseling.”
Cunningham further explained what made her decide to choose a career as a school psychologist. “I wanted to be a school psychologist because I enjoy spending time with students, working as a team with colleagues, and problem-solving challenging situations. Being a school psychologist is an interesting balance of being very logical, while also having an emotional side. I enjoy both aspects of this job and love that I work directly with students, teachers, and families,” said Cunningham
Long spoke to Cunningham’s ambition and professionalism. “Ms. Cunningham’s work ethic is exemplary. She came from a very large school system and brings with her knowledge and professional experience that can only be learned from being in a large school system,” said Long. “She also has lots of experience in medium-sized schools, but her perspective has been educational for me already, and it’s only been a couple of months.”
“I am very excited to be working with her,” added Long. “She is extremely skilled and she has an engaging personality. She is an excellent co-worker.”
Starting a new job can be nerve wracking and overwhelming, even more so during a pandemic. Cunningham commented on the obstacles she’s faced, saying, “one challenge I have faced so far this year is being new to the district but not being able to see many staff members or students face-to-face. Much of my job is about relationships so I am working to be as accessible and helpful to as many people as I can. In order to overcome the new boundaries of online learning, I prioritize having open communication and taking time to get to know people.”
Open communication is so important during these virtual times, and makes online learning run smoother. While it’s important to stay connected in terms of school and work, making time to disconnect and do things that you love can make staying focused much easier. “In my free time, I typically enjoy hanging out with friends, taste-testing nachos at restaurants in the Seacoast area, and running with my dog,” said Cunningham. “Under recent circumstances, I have spent more time at home reading and baking. I have perfected the chocolate chip cookie!”
Focusing on the things we’re excited for is one way to get through a challenging time. Cunningham commented on what she looks forward to, saying, “with the perspective of wanting to be a life-long learner, I am excited to continue to learn about the field of school psychology and be a part of its growth. I also look forward to interacting more with my students, colleagues, and this district in a time when COVID-19 is no longer impacting our world the way it is now.”