MSU alum named School Psychologist of the Year

July 12, 2021

Michigan State University alumnus Joe Sbar, a school psychologist with the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District in Sault Ste. Marie, has been named Michigan School Psychologist of the Year.

Spartan Statue close up

The Michigan Association of School Psychologists (MASP) presented Sbar with its highest honor for 2021. The association revived the award this year to recognize individual school psychologists who have demonstrated exemplary dedication and effectiveness in improving the well-being of children and schools and in advancing the profession of school psychology.

Sbar was selected from multiple nominations from across the state. He graduated from the MSU College of Education with both his master’s degree (2010) and Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology (2012). 

“Joe Sbar exemplifies best practices in school psychology by fostering learning and supporting mental health in schools across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. With his keen intelligence and kind heart, he leads his school-based teams in evidence-based approaches to support students, and particularly those who are minoritized in schools. We’re so proud to have Joe as an MSU alum.”

Jana Aupperlee, Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education

Sbar’s leadership has been evident through his work implementing multi-tiered systems of supports (MTSS) as a member of the Intermediate School District (ISD)-Level Regional MTSS Implementation Team and the Joseph K. Lumsden Anishnabe Public School Academy MTSS Implementation Team.

After an incredibly tough year, especially in schools, school psychologists are in particularly high demand right now. According to MASP, Sbar represents the best in school psychology, demonstrating an outstanding commitment to the profession and to improving the lives and learning of children and youth.

Joe Sbar headshot
Joe Sbar

He shares his insights and advice below on how rewarding this field can truly be.

How do you describe the purpose of a school psychologist?

“Perhaps the most powerful and universally-held core belief in the profession of school psychology is captured in the National Association of School Psychologists’ Vision Statement: that with access to the right learning, behavior and mental health support, all children and youth can thrive in school, at home and in life. This notion drives the work that we do, the way that we think and the way that we solve problems. As school psychologists, our purpose is to identify the unique skills, talents and interests of our students and empower them to forge a destiny for themselves that maximizes their potential. Although our purpose as professionals is to create these outcomes for our students, I believe that we often lose sight of the need to seek these same outcomes for ourselves.”

Is there a certain student or situation that stands out to you?

Sbar says the most powerful experience in school psychology occurs when you are the first person who realizes a student’s potential and can help them. He says, “Everybody has a strength of some sort, but a lot of people don’t know about it yet. Students can experience frustration in schools and that tends to affect self-esteem and overall behavior.”

When he meets with students for the first time, he assesses them and figures out what those unique strengths and talents are, then points that out to them with hard evidence. Sometimes when that happens, they get a feeling that they haven’t had before and that is that they are capable, and they are good at something and they can be successful. Those are the students that resonate with Sbar most powerfully. They realized they could do it and they actually felt good about it with confidence. That happened many times in Sbar’s career and he says it is the best feeling.

What advice would you give to students who are entering this field?

“If someone is thinking about a career in psychology, I recommend that they get practical experience within the fields that interest them. Job shadowing and interning within different psychology fields to get experience can help you ensure you are making the right career choice.”

Sbar received his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2009. After job shadowing with different types of psychologists and getting internship experience in different mental health settings, he realized that school psychology was the field that best suited his goals, professional interests, personality and skill set.

Interested in pursuing a graduate degree in School Psychology or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support? MSU offers multiple program types.