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Divorce. Addiction. Chronic Illness. Jail. These traumas occur in American life at all societal levels, and they affect the lives of both adults and children every day. When kids are affected by traumatic events, they bring the effects of that trauma with them to school. Depression, anxiety and trauma-induced behavioral challenges impact their ability to learn and their relationships with teachers and peers.

Educational Psychology alumnus Elizabeth Minne, Ph.D. ’06, is helping to provide an outlet for students to deal with some of these issues for Austin Independent School District (AISD) students through on-campus school mental health centers. Vida Clinic, which was founded by Minne, has partnered with AISD to provide on-campus mental health centers with licensed counselors.

Elizabeth Minne

Initially implemented at Crockett High School, mental health services have expanded to 18 middle and high schools, and 22 elementary schools. These schools serve students who live in multilingual neighborhoods, many of which have a higher proportion of crime and a lack of transportation. These factors can lead to issues such as disruptive behavior or chronic absenteeism.

The stress that students experience can lead to disruptive behavior in and out of class that can, in turn, lead to suspensions or expulsions. Meeting with a counselor provides a way for students to work through their issues, without relying on punitive measures that help fuel the school-to-prison pipeline.

Vida Clinic helps fill a void that school counselors typically cannot take on. Most school counselors are required to spend the majority of their time supporting students academically—making sure students are earning their school credits and are on track to graduate. The job of Vida Clinic’s clinical therapists is to support student mental health. When counselors encounter students who are struggling emotionally, they can refer students to the on-site clinic for mental health services. Students do not have to travel and miss minimal class time. This also means that parents or guardians do not have to take time off of work to take children to appointments.

A case study from the 2016-2017 school year at Crockett High School offers support that these services benefit the students who participate. Compared to a control group, students in the treatment group exhibited increased attendance, fewer expulsions, and higher academic performance.

Teachers and parents can be involved in a variety of ways, says Minne. “They can participate in individual therapy services for themselves. They can take part in individual consultation services in order to develop trauma-informed strategies for responding to challenging student behaviors. They can participate in small group workshops to develop skills and knowledge of mental health concepts. Or they can attend campus-wide presentations for initial learning of mental health concepts, such as Trauma-Informed Care.”

The on-campus clinics also help destigmatize mental health. When appropriate, therapists can also work with the student’s parents or teachers, taking a holistic approach to mental health.

Providing teachers with resources to deal with disruptive behavior can also help reduce teacher stress. “Teachers can sometimes take disruptive behavior from students personally, when many times the disruptive behavior has less to do with the teacher and more to do with stress or mental health issues the student is facing,” says Christopher McCarthy, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

McCarthy and his graduate students have collaborated with Minne for several years to help teachers develop coping resources for classroom stress. They also help improve teachers’ occupational health and allow them to better recognize when students might be experiencing mental health concerns.

Says Minne, “We find that when we have mental health professionals on campuses who are able to provide therapeutic support for everyone, both the adults and the students, the climate begins to shift to one that is more open to talking about mental health. It becomes easier for everyone to acknowledge that mental health is something that we all need to pay attention to. As one teacher told me, ‘It takes a village, we are all in this together.’”

 

Schools are serving more students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than ever before. Early detection and interventions are proven paths to success, but programs designed to help students with ASD often concentrate on providing early intervention. By the time a young adult with ASD faces high school graduation, he or she may have gone years without interventions to prepare for transitioning into the job market or going to college.

Professor Colleen Reutebuch, director of the Reading Institute at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at UT Austin’s College of Education, wanted to investigate the relationship between high school interventions and post-graduation success for students with ASD.  With colleagues from Vanderbilt and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Reutebuch recently published a study that did just that, titled Addressing the Needs of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Considerations and Complexities for High School Interventions.

Students at a career fair.Working on behalf of The Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSESA), Reutebuch and her team analyzed data from 28 focus groups across four states.

“This study was unique in that feedback from stakeholders was used to design and investigate a comprehensive school- and community-based treatment model for adolescents with ASD,” explained Reutebuch. That feedback offered jarring, though not surprising, results. Participants—a representative mix of stakeholders—underlined the inadequacy of current supports for students with autism. Participants agreed that reliable, replicable teaching methods and supports during high school could drastically improve education, employment, and quality of life outcomes after graduation.

But individualized attention is, on its own, not enough. The study also pinpointed a need for education professionals to work together, behind the scenes, as a unified team of well-trained advocates for students with ASD. “Misinformation about ASD and how to address the educational needs and supports for individuals on the spectrum need to be addressed,” notes Reutebuch. “For the project team, this was important because it indicated a need to disseminate information about ASD, and to incorporate capacity building into professional development for educators and staff.”

With support from educators, family, and the community throughout their school years, evidence points to the likelihood that students with ASD are more likely to attend college and pursue meaningful employment.

“High schools can and should play a more significant role in preparing adolescents with ASD for success in post-school settings,” remarked Reutebuch. “Education and services in high school contribute greatly to an individual’s quality of life and, based on our findings, it is clear that there is tremendous room for improvement.”

How Mentoring Strengthens Latino Communities and Classrooms

Statistics indicate that, of all student subgroups, Hispanic males are least likely to stay in school.

In 2009, more than 61 percent of all associate’s or bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanics were earned by females, and the percentage of those who attained a bachelor’s degree doubled from 8.4 percent in 1995 to 15 percent in 2010. That’s not the story for males, according to Victor Saenz, associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration. In fact, he said, many have described Hispanic males’ diminishing presence in the education system as a “crisis.”

At the College of Education, a network of dedicated researchers, mentors and students are working to fix that — and have been — for five years.

Victor Saenz

Victor B. Sáenz, Ph.D.

Their solution is called Project M.A.L.E.S. (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success). The brainchild of Saenz and his colleagues Luis Ponjuan and William Serrata, Project M.A.L.E.S. is a research-informed network of undergraduate males who mentor Hispanic high school males, as well as graduate Hispanic males who mentor undergraduate males. The program promotes and shares research on the educational experiences of men of color. Research, including that of Saenz, shows that mentoring programs like this improve the odds that students will stay in the education pipeline.

“They just need information, emotional support and someone to guide them on what’s really a very complicated path. They need mentors,” said Saenz, who also founded The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color.

And mentorship is exactly what Project M.A.L.E.S. provides.

“Latino males have many unique challenges when it comes to pursuing an education — in trying to fulfill what it means to be a ‘man’ in Latino culture, many of them quit school as soon as they’re able to work,” said Mike Gutierrez, the program’s mentoring coordinator and an adviser at Austin Community College. “If they don’t know what it takes to get in college, for example, they may be really hesitant to ask questions … These are cultural factors that not just everybody understands.”

This cultural influence is something Gutierrez understands first-hand. Growing up, he experienced a lot of the same things M.A.L.E.S mentees face, and was a mentor himself before becoming the mentor coordinator for the program.

Now, Gutierrez is working on his second master’s degree.

“I couldn’t have done it without a lot of great people who thought I was worth the trouble and worth helping,” he said.

This premise of having a supporter, encourager and mentor is what has made the greatest impact on the individuals involved, especially past mentors who share similar experiences with their mentees.

“When it comes to Dr. Saenz’s scholarship, I am the research. I’ve faced the challenges, and I can tell you from experience that the kind of work Project M.A.L.E.S does is desperately needed,” said Jorge Segovia, a former mentor and now the curriculum and community engagement coordinator for the program. “The current U.S. school system isn’t designed to support African American and Hispanic student success. To make it through, these groups need good mentors … Lots of caring people stepped in and helped me, and I feel a strong obligation to return the favor.”

That feeling of paying it forward has paid off. In the past five years, Project M.A.L.E.S. has gained national attention and multiple invitations to Saenz from the White House, as well as several state and local honors.

Luis Urrieta

Luis Urrieta, Jr., Ph.D.

This year, the program obtained approval for a service-learning course through the College of Liberal Arts that anchors undergraduate mentors’ training in a formal academic class. The new course, titled “Instructing Males Through Peer Advising College Tracks,” launched this past fall. It gives students an opportunity to learn about public service, and to work with Central Texas community leaders. Students also receive mentor training, explore literature on the unique challenges that men of color face, and put their mentoring skills to the test in Austin area schools.

“We were the first and are the most prominent university-based, research-informed program that focuses on the mentoring and study of Latino males,” said Saenz, “and we take that responsibility very seriously. Mentoring is in our organization’s name and it’s what we’re about.”

Like Saenz, College of Education Associate Professor Luis Urrieta is also passionate about using mentoring to help Latino youth. His focus is on teaching young Latinos about the benefits of their social and cultural knowledge, and how it can be the key to their success.

“In the U.S. education system, we too often dismiss the fact that learning includes all of a child’s environments and multiple ways of knowing and being, not just the structured, limited activities that occur in a classroom,” said Urrieta, himself the son of Mexican immigrants from rural Michoacán. “I want to transform current education practices by figuring out how these cultural practices and traditions can complement formal Western education.”

The program, called Cultura en Acción, was created in Austin two years ago. UT student volunteers spend one afternoon each week with third, fourth and fifth graders at Austin area schools.

For a lot of the mentors, the experience becomes more than just a volunteer opportunity, with the benefits of the program expanding beyond Austin. Urrieta captured national attention for his work by receiving a Cesar E. Chavez Champions of Change award from the White House last year.

“Dr. Urrieta really stresses that you’re not there to fulfill an obligation or gain an experience that you can just put on your resume,” said Ana Isabel Fernandez De Alb, a former mentor in the program and a graduate student in Mexican American Studies. “As a mentor, you develop rapport with the children that allows them to talk freely about crossing the border and visiting their families in Mexico, for example, and that’s something that they may not share with almost anyone else.”

For both Project M.A.L.E.S. and Cultura en Acción, students, researchers, faculty members and volunteers at the College of Education are dedicated to making a difference – one mentoring relationship at a time.

Credit: Kay Randall for research and collaboration on this article.

February 5, 2015

To address a critical shortage of K-12 computer science teachers, students and courses, the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching (TRC) hosted a workshop in Austin that brought together computer science researchers, educators and technology industry representatives.

Jason Turnbull

Jason Turnbull of Fort Worth ISD explores an interactive display board at the TACC Vizualization Lab during the TRC CS Network Training.

The TRC, which is part of the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, offers award-winning, high quality, research-based STEM professional development to teachers statewide.

“In case anyone still needs convincing,” said Carol Fletcher, the TRC’s associate director and event organizer, “there’s a wealth of data showing a dire problem in computer science education. Last year, only 15,000 students in the entire state of Texas took computer science I, II or AP classes, and only 90 new teachers passed the certification exam to teach the subject.”

“Even though 20 percent of the jobs in Austin are in technology, and statistics show that by 2020 the U.S. is going to need at least a million more programmers, the number of new computer science degree holders is steadily falling. The TRC is committed to reversing this trend.”

According to Fletcher, the Texas high school teachers who are part of the TRC’s computer science network and who attended the workshop will be among the leaders who transform computer science education around the state.

To create a strong Texas computer science pipeline, workshop participants examined solutions that included:

  • investing in a statewide, systemic program to train and certify skilled computer science teachers
  • incentivizing districts to offer computer science through weighted funding
  • increasing the number of high-level, project-based computer education courses
  • developing online and volunteer resources that connect high schools with interesting, accomplished professionals in computer science fields
  • aggressively recruiting females and minorities with messages and activities specifically targeted to them
  • marketing the variety and scope of possible careers
Kim Garcia

Kim Garcia of Georgetown ISD

Lorilyn Owens, director of Oracle Academy North America, outlined her company’s involvement. “The TRC model helps foster a strong and supportive community of practice, and offers additional support for educators at the regional and state levels.  We are honored to collaborate with an inspirational leader like Carol Fletcher in order sustain and grow Texas’ commitment to computer science education and educators.”

Among the state and national stakeholders who spoke at the workshop were Owen Astrachan, a computer science professor at Duke University; Hal Speed and Jake Baskin with Code.org; Tricia Berry, director of UT Austin’s Women in Engineering Program and the Texas Girls Collaborative Project; Tyra Crockett, senior marketing manager with Oracle Academy; Lien Diaz, the College Board’s senior director of curriculum and content development; and Rosalia Gomez with UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). IBM, Oracle Academy, TCEA, Dell and the TACC sponsored the event.

“You know, people don’t say, ‘I’m not a reading person,’ but every time you turn around you hear someone say, ‘I’m not a math person,’” said Berry. “It’s crucial that we work on dispelling negative stereotypes and incorrect information about STEM fields and subjects. It’s about creativity as much as the arts are, and it’s about problem solving, exploring and designing. If we can give STEM an image overhaul, more individuals will realize they really are science and math people.”

To learn more about how the TRC is training and supporting a new generation of computer science teachers, visit the TRC’s Computer Science Resources website or contact Carol Fletcher at carol.fletcher@austin.utexas.edu.

November 3, 2014

Rebecca CallahanEven though over 7.5 million potential voters between 18 and 24 were born abroad or in the U.S. to immigrant parents, very little research has been done on what affects the political and civic engagement of that large demographic. Do language barriers guide whether or not they register to vote? Do family opinions play a big part?

In their new book “Coming of Political Age: American Schools and the Civic Development of Immigrant Youth,” co-authors Rebecca Callahan and Chandra Muller argue that completion of high school social studies significantly influences immigrant students’ future voting habits.

Callahan is an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Muller is a professor in the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Sociology.

According to the co-authors, the number of social studies credits completed in high school matters more for first- and second-generation immigrant children than for children of native-born parents when it comes to predicting voter participation. They also found that, although education affects who votes and registers to vote, it does not influence political party identification or the political perspective of immigrant youth.

Coming of Political Age by Rebecca Callahan“Previous research has focused on how immigrant parents and communities shape their children’s social and academic development,” said Callahan. “In this work, we focus on school as a critical location for understanding the political socialization processes of immigrant adolescents.”

Callahan and Muller used nationally representative high school student data, linked to future voting, as well as interviews with high school social studies teachers and their former Latino immigrant students, to show how schools can create a democratic citizenry.

The book notes that some efforts to increase English language proficiency by placing students in English language learning programs can result in fewer opportunities to take social science courses and less instruction in American political processes.

“Our study of adolescents’ civic socialization illustrates just how much schools shape immigrant youth’s political futures through the courses they take,” said Callahan. “This is a critical piece of the puzzle for anyone who’s interested in the youth vote. The future of American democracy is inextricably linked to the health of this country’s public schools.”