Vital Role Filled by New Staff Member

Meet School Psychologist Ms. Hengen


Lauren Eurich

Love For Gretna: “I love the students and staff at Gretna,” Ms. Wredt said. “They are amazing to work with and I feel that they are very welcoming. I love that Gretna is relativity a smaller district and because of that, I have been able to do different projects and different things with different psychologists throughout Gretna.”

Gretna has a motto that applies to all students, “the mission of Gretna Public Schools is to accept all students unconditionally and maximize their potential.” Staff members have an important role in order to uphold it. One of those staff members may not be as well-known, but has a vital role as a school psychologist, Ms. Stephanie Hengen. She plays a very important role at GHS. This is her first year at the high school, but she was at elementary and middle schools.
“This is my third year at Gretna,” Ms. Hengen said. “The last two years I was at Aspen Creek Elementary and Aspen Creek Middle School. Now I am at the High School full-time.”
Before Ms. Hengen came to Gretna, she lived in Utah while considering a career path in psychology. She was job searching to come work in Nebraska, but wasn’t exactly sure where.
“Before I came to Gretna, I was living in Utah doing an internship,” Ms. Hengen said. “I used to want to be a crime scene investigator, then I realized that I would have had to move to a large city and that wasn’t my jam. When I started looking for jobs, it had to be a good enough job and a good enough school district to make me want to leave Utah.”
Fortunately, Ms. Hengen decided to move to Gretna where she would start her career as a school psychologist. She chose Gretna for the small town feel.
“Part of the reason that I chose Gretna was because their philosophy and mind greatly aligns,” Ms. Hengen said. “In Gretna, I just feel like for the most part the staff just truly cares about their students and the community. It seems like a small town that has grown and I wanted those small-town values and kindness towards one another.”
Ms. Hengen provides students and staff with input in order to make the school and students feel safe and further their needs. However, many people may not realize what Ms. Hengen actually does at school.
“My goals as a school psychologist are to have schools have a healthy and safe environment for students, teachers and staff,” Ms. Hengen said. “My primary role in Gretna High School is to test students for special education and to see if they qualify. If they don’t qualify, then I am to provide input as to different plan reports that they need. I do the testing, I write a report, I go to those meetings, I explain the results to the parents and teachers and we come up with a plan in order to help the student.”
Although these are her primary responsibilities, her day-to-day routine is anything but a routine. Ms. Hengen does many things from attending meetings to problem-solving with teachers and parents to do what is best for that student.
“My day-to-day just varies on what the needs are for that day,” Ms. Hengen said “I attend conferences and professional developments, I discuss and generate interventions to support students’ mental and behavioral health, academic strategies and social skills. I do a lot of problem-solving with teachers, principals and students. A lot of times they come to me and say I have this problem and so I do a lot of problem-solving and make recommendations to what the best solution could be.”
With all of these daily tasks, Ms. Hengen also teaches and supervises a student teacher Ms. Jamie Wredt who is also on her way to becoming a school psychologist. Ms. Wredt has the opportunity to learn from Ms. Hengen to further her career.
“I have learned a lot from working with Ms. Hengen,” Ms. Wredt said. “What I have learned so far are special-education evaluations and things that go into it such as rating and testing skills, how to interpret those skills, what we need to look at specifically for information, and how to use that information to benefit the students.”
Before deciding on becoming a school psychologist Ms. Wredt wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do. In college, she was introduced to the school psychologist career and found her passion for it.
“I was at UNO getting my undergraduate education and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” Ms. Wredt said. “I have switched my major five times and I finally settled on psychology. I took a career psychology class and I was able to learn more about being a school psychologist and I fell in love with the job.”
While at Gretna Ms. Wredt is also able to have something new every-day. While at Gretna, Ms. Wredt was able to help start an anxiety group with one of the school counselors Ms. Palensky.
“I am co-facilitating an anxiety group with one of the counselors, Ms. Palensky,” Ms. Wredt said. “What we have done so far is just identifying feelings and are able to identify different emotions. What we are starting to look at now is what situations provoke anxiety such as public speaking. So we are trying to figure out what those situations are so when they do encounter those situations, we can provide them with coping strategies and something to help ease their anxiety.”
Ms. Palensky has been facilitating this group for the last two years. This past year, Ms. Wredt has been helping Ms. Palensky co-facilitate the group. With the COVID circumstances of this year, some aspects of this group have changed to a smaller circle in hopes that in the future it will grow.
“I have had a small grief group for the last two years,” Ms. Palensky said. “We originally were going to do that again this year, but in order to reach more students who are struggling, we changed it to a more ‘general’ group for students who would benefit from learning how to regulate their emotions. This allows for a lot of different students to attend. We cover these emotions primarily: grief, anxiety, depression, fear, and anger. This is a closed group meaning teachers/counselors recommended students and then we made a small group from there. Because it is the first year trying it we decided to approach it this way. If it goes well, we might open it up to more students in the future.”
The roles that the counselors and school psychologists play in the school are now more important than ever. If anyone wants to know more about being a school psychologist, Ms. Hengen is the person to talk to.
“The nation is in a school psychology shortage,” Ms. Hengen said. “So, if there is anybody curious about the profession I would love to talk to them or email me. We can definitely use more school psychologists in the district because there are more school psychologists added as we continue to grow.”