A Chat with Dr. Cunningham, SGS School Psychologist

For over a decade, school psychologist Dr. Ronnie Cunningham (Dr. C) has been providing mental and emotional assistance to SGS students. His strong connection with both the community and our student support team has been paramount to the success of our mission: empowering young learners. We had the privilege of having a quick, 15-minute chat with Dr. C, asking him a few questions about his history with SGS, how he works with the student support team, and what he recommends for students who need help.
Hi, Dr. C. Thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us a bit about your role as a school psychologist and how you support the students at SGS?

Certainly. I work a lot with Miryam, the Dean of Students and Faculty, Ariel, the Student Support Specialist, and other staff members regarding student mental health and emotional well-being, both at the community and individual levels. In addition, I support the mental health needs of SGS students by conducting bi-weekly or monthly counseling sessions for groups of about four or five students, depending on their specific needs. 

How long have you been working as the school's psychologist? 

Well, I knew Rafael Castillo when he was the Head of School, and he knew me from Rainier Scholars, so I think that puts it at a little over a decade now. 

Wow, that's a good amount of time. Can you speak to how you collaborate with the SGS support team to create a supportive and inclusive environment? 

You just said it, collaborate -- and collaborate on a regular basis. Miryam has her finger on the pulse of the kids and knows who may require additional emotional or mental health support. Some students face greater challenges than others and lack external support. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to find a therapist here in Seattle or anywhere in the country, for that matter. So it helps that Miryam does a good job at staying in check with the students and keeps a running list of individuals who may need assistance and we proceed from there.

Could you share some strategies or resources that families can use to support their child's emotional well-being? For instance, are they able to reach out to you directly?
Absolutely, the students here can reach out to me. Typically, students reach out to me through Miryam, and then they can contact my clinic. My clinic has 7 practitioners and a psychiatric nurse and administrative personnel. Like I said, it can be hard to find psychologists and especially hard to find psychiatrists during COVID, when everyone’s mental health needs skyrocketed, and we’re still feeling the residual effects from that. It’s funny because you know, becoming a psychologist is a long, arduous process, so it makes sense there are not very many of us. In terms of kids here accessing needs – Ariel and Miryam will contact me. I can make other referral sources for colleagues that I know in the community.
What advice would you give to students who may be struggling with stress, anxiety, or other emotional difficulties? 

Talk to somebody. Speak with an adult or trusted caregiver. It all really starts from there—let people know what’s going on. Referring to internalized distresses, imagine a teapot without a spout. There’s water inside, and the heat from the oven is making the water boil. That energy has to go somewhere. Talking to somebody is the start of building the spout so you can process that energy and let it out in a healthy way.
Located in the Central District, Seattle Girls' School is an independent school for girls and gender nonconforming students in grades 5-8. Our mission is to inspire and develop courageous leaders who think independently, work collaboratively, learn joyfully, and champion change.