School psychologist looks back: ‘I’ve been blessed’

James Dibble retires as school psychologist at the end of the school term.

James Dibble might have been a writer or a biologist, with both fields capturing his attention. But so did psychology.

Now, as he prepares to retire after an 18-year career as school psychologist on Shelter Island and 14 years before that as a BOCES psychologist, it occurs to him that some of his newly found free time might be consumed by chasing one of those other, early passions.

Contemplating retirement, he had one regret — leaving behind students who still depended on him. But he has confidence in his successor, Danielle Spears, who assumes the post in September. He describes her as bright and passionate about the work.

Looking back on his years in the district, he’s known many of the students from the time they first started school through to their graduations and believes he fulfilled the one driving force that made him choose psychology.

“I wanted to do something that would make a difference,” Mr. Dibble said at the school last week.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate,” he said about his career. “I’ve been blessed.”

He’ll miss working on the Island, working in an environment so small that students all know one another and have close relationships with their teachers. And it’s unique that a school psychologist knows students for their entire 12 years in the district.

His days have been filled with individual counseling sessions and testing. Both are important, especially at an early age before problems become “hard-wired” and intervention becomes more difficult, the psychologist said. The job has changed through the years, largely because of the advent of social media and cellphones, he added.

Students still experience anxieties and, for some, depression. But there’s not as much introspection as once existed. Everyone wants the “instant gratification” of posting something immediately, and that too often results in thoughts expressed on the internet that bring about unintended consequences.

There were always bullies who mistreated their classmates, he said, but internet posts last much longer and seem to have more impact on students. He tries to assure them that the posts, too, will pass, as something else appears that grabs readers’ attention. But it’s difficult, he added.

The other side of the equation that causes students emotional pain is what they see as inattention from their parents. One student told Mr. Dibble he had just scored his first basket in a game and looked up in the stands to see his mother on her cellphone.

Parents don’t always think about the impact their cellphone habits have on their children, Mr. Dibble said.

“It’s a heartbreaker,” he added.

What won’t he miss? Paperwork, drawn out meetings and those long ferry lines as he commutes from his home in East Marion.

Looking ahead, besides expanding his private practice a bit, he wants to travel, pursue his interests in nature and science and maybe do some writing.