This Caribbean island employs one school psychologist, and she's a Rider graduate

Thea Richardson '11 helps students with special needs in Anguilla
Keith Fernbach

Thea Richardson '11 is the only school psychologist on the island of Anguilla, a British territory in the Caribbean.

Employed by Anguilla’s Department of Education, Richardson supports students in six primary schools and one high school. She helps to identify students with specific learning needs, and then implements strategies and initiatives to assist those students. She also leads guidance and information-sharing sessions with teachers to help them better support this population.

As she continues to grow in her career and impact the lives of Anguilla’s youth, Richardson is quick to credit her time at Rider University, where she received a master's in school psychology, with giving her the confidence to thrive in her position.

“My experiences both in and out of the classroom forced me to come out of my shell, to be more outspoken and less reserved," she says. "It is safe to say that at Rider I blossomed into the professional that I am today.”

Richardson grew up in Anguilla. Like most children, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to be when she grew up. “My desired career changed often,” she recalls of her youth. “At one point I wanted to be a vet, two weeks later I wanted to be something else. It was not until I had an opportunity to teach that I realized my calling was in the field of education.”

The Anguillan culture is very family-oriented, and when it came time to attend college, Richardson chose to go to school in New Jersey, in large part because she had close family living nearby. She earned a bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in history in 2006.

After graduating, she returned to Anguilla and began working as a remedial reading teacher. The job entailed teaching reading to groups of students at three of the island’s primary schools.

“I derived much satisfaction from seeing the students’ excitement when they were making progress in reading,” she says. “It was probably during this time that my passion for the field of education was ignited.”

This experience of helping children inspired Richardson to seek a graduate degree so she could impact their lives even further. “I started looking into professions that involved both my bachelor’s in psychology and my newfound passion, education,” she says.

“During my stint as a remedial reading teacher, I was able to assist students with special educational needs who required intensive remediation," Richardson continues. "The differences in these students, and how they learned, interested me. After some research, I realized that the school psychology degree in the United States met all the criteria needed for what was a growing need in Anguilla — supporting this vulnerable population.”

Richardson considered numerous programs for earning her school psychology degree, but ultimately decided Rider was the best fit for her, in part because it would again reunite her with her New Jersey family, but also because the program is accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists and she was impressed by the level of personalized attention and student support the school provided.

Looking back on her time at Rider, Richardson says her experience was nothing short of great. “From the moment I checked in on that first day until I graduated, I felt at home,” she says. “The pervading atmosphere of warmth and concern for my general wellbeing reminded me of my small island community.”

She adds that the sense of family existed all over campus. “From the very beginning, anyone I came into contact with at Rider was helpful, understanding and accommodating,” she says. “People took the time to talk to me, to listen and most importantly, they remembered my name! The cohort of students I started the program with also made the experience at Rider enjoyable. We got along well and supported each other through the course of the program.”

She also credits Rider's Center For International Education for contributing to her positive experience. “The staff there was most helpful and always ready to answer questions about my documentation,” she says. “They assisted me with my internship requirements and always made sure my travel between the United States and Anguilla went smoothly. Any international student looking at Rider as a place for study should be comfortable knowing they will be looked after for the duration of their stay.”

Richardson believes one of the most beneficial aspects of the school psychology program was her yearlong internship, which she says provided her with the opportunity to put into practice everything she learned during her time at Rider.

“I credit that as having a major impact on my ability to function in Anguilla,” she says. “I was able to see how the school psychologist functions in the school setting, and I was also able to conduct assessments and share results with parents. It was during this work experience that I learned things that were not covered in the content of the textbook, but were vital to being able to undertake my current duties as a school psychologist.”