Dr. Sheldon Eakins: (00:00)
Welcome, Advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. I’ve got a special guest, and it's always a special guest, but this special guest is a friend of mine -- a good friend of mine -- someone I've kicked it with, we've hung out several times. He comes to my school regularly and we do work together. He is a school psychologist and I want to welcome Dr. Joel Bocanegra on the show for us today. So Joel, thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Joel Bocanegra: (00:32)
So Dr. Bocanegra, you said it's okay after I call you Joel, but you know. Okay, cool. Okay, we'll do that. We'll do that. So Joel, you do a lot of research on school psychology and recruitment of school psychologists of color particularly. And before we really get into some of the questions that I have for you today, our conversation, I want you to share with us, you know, what got you into this research?
Yeah. So it really started when I was a graduate student and really interested in multicultural issues and diversity issues within the field. And it was school to college and we work with a lot of minority or diverse students, but we've always kind of struggled with, you know, with service provision and doing culturally competent practice. But we talk about it a lot. But there's really a lack of research for the longest time. So trying to figure out this issue and thinking about as graduate students, I, you know, decided that maybe one of the issues is there's a lack of critical mass, that there's a lack of minority faculty on to really ask these questions to, you know, to look at these topics, kind of push for these issues. Like right now, on the top of my head, I think the profession is 13% minority and we deal with them with live with the majority of minorities in schools. So this building right now is 50% racial ethnic minorities, K-12, and other schools. And we're at 13, when I was a grad student we were at 9%, so this idea of maybe creating a critical mass so we can ask these questions so we can solve some issues, improves or positions or our minority students. So that really is kind of what got me interested was, you know, how can we increase, improve the multicultural competency of our providers who benefit in the lines of, you know, minorities. And also all students.
That's a great way to get into this research. I mean ‘cause obviously you say when you first entered into school psychology it was at 9% and like you said, the stats say that it's over. I think last time I saw it was like 51 or 52% of color as far as our student population. So I mean obviously that makes such a big impact with who's being entered into special education programs, the intellectual testing that's being done, behavior testing that are being done, gifted and talented and those types of things that are being done. And who's getting let into. You and I have talked before about the world of school psychology. And one of the things that you say a lot is, you know, it's kind of like the gatekeepers for these auxiliary programs. And I'm loving that we're talking about this. So let me ask you this question because you've given us the numbers. So we're about 13% people of color when it comes to school psychologists. Why do you suspect that there is such a shortage of school psychologists of color out there?
You know, nobody really knows. Those are really good questions. There could be many possible reasons, you know, overall there's a shortage in the field. There’s a huge, you know, critical shortage. So I tend to write about recruitment issues for diversity, I also write about the general shortage issues. My first love is the recruitment issue for diversity minorities. But then I was looking at it broadly. There is a national shortage that also impacts all -- a lot of schools -- especially in the rural areas and some rural areas haven't had any schools and colleges in years. It's a huge issue for all students and especially minority students. But these are complex issues. I think a lot of it's a lack of exposure in the field and lack of understanding or what a school psychologist does. And I think this is specifically important for minorities in that traditionally, school psychology has been seen as this gatekeeper role where all we did was, you know, say who could or couldn't go to special education.
And I think a lot of times minority students went or are going to grad school, we've got to understand that to work as a school psychologist, you need to have a graduate degree, you need to have beyond a master's. So there’s a master’s, beyond a master's to work in schools. So there's a lot of hurdles along these ways and a lot of people that, when they're thinking about graduate schools, especially minority individuals, they want to give back to local communities. So, if traditionally school psychology has been seen on [inaudible] specialty occasion and gatekeeper to special education, a lot of individuals might not see it as benefiting minority students. So they tend to go, they tend to choose, if you're thinking about psychology, other professional psychology types like counseling and clinical. And that's my own personal perspective, but I think that explains a lot of it that a lot of times, the longest time school psychology has not been seen as benefiting minority students.
Thank you for sharing that Joel. So that makes a lot of sense where, when it comes to, okay -- the appeal, if you will, of getting into the field of school psychology. So I guess my follow-up question would be, are there any other barriers that, or anything else that kind of are obstacles that may contribute to having less of a pipeline from the interest into actually getting into the field of school psychology?
I like to talk -- I like the term pipeline. Yeah, that was a very good use of it. When I think about who's doing a lot of research on using sort of theories and so on about career development, right, in school psychology, and looking at minorities and also looking on minorities. And I want you to think as career development as a pipeline, right? Where now, you know, people start making career decisions, not, you know, not at the point of where they decide to apply for a job or not, but these are long-term decisions or kind of -- and choices kind of moved in different directions. So for example, I'm not having a lot of school psychologists of color in schools, right? When you have a minority student going to school and not seeing a school psychologist or only seeing school psychologists do is putting people in special educations not doing preventative services, not doing counseling, not doing intervention, and so on. Then they might think "This is for me, this is not for me," and not seeing one of colors and all of that.
It might not be professional where I'm representative, but if you see people of color doing these kinds of things, right, "Oh, maybe that is for me. Maybe there's something that's rewarding." There's them giving back to communities. And then when you go into high school, kind of same thing going on. And in college, one of the biggest roles that we have in school psychology, in general, when it comes to recruitment is that most programs of school psychology or in the college of education, yet we tend to target psychology students who know we're in different colleges. So our pipeline is broken. It's leaky -- all throughout. So most of the schools [inaudible] in the K-12 schools are not seen very often. They're often not of color, roughly. So there's that one piece right there where, like, kids are being exposed to it but might not know about it but might have a negative view of it or might not be represented in it.
Then this consumes the high school and undergrad. Most of the professors might be clinical or experimental psychology if you willing to do the psych route. They're not schools like, we know from research that school psychology's underrepresented undergraduate textbooks. When it comes to psychology you're also underrepresented in coursework, you know, and we're not represented in media, so we're kind of just kind of hidden in the background. So you know, so you have like this lack of knowledge, this lack of exposure, lack of representation. And it really kind of just makes it really difficult. So we also have another, you know, avenue with people coming into field attuning [inaudible] psychology and the education. And for education, a lot of times those individuals are individuals that are already in the profession of teaching or involving teaching somehow and then find out about school psychology. I would say that most people, the fun of our field is, is by chance.
So in most of the time they're already in a career and they come back afterwards to try to gain some feel. Then you have to worry about the different roadblocks along the ways, the different tests. It's not like you just have the graduate high school, but you have to graduate high school, you go make a career decision with what field you're going to go into, graduate your undergrad and then went to grad school and then choose to go into the field. So along the pipeline, there are many different avenues and areas where, if we're not represented, if we're not seen and if we're not seen as really impacting our own communities, it might dissuade somebody from going into the field.
So it sounds like one of the big factors -- if I'm hearing you right -- one of the big factors is the recruitment methods aren't as -- aren't where they need to be. What, what kind of suggestions would you make when it comes to recruitment to where the recruitment is authentic? Because I've seen, you know, "Oh, let's send out that one person of color to the high school." Like, how do you make that recruitment authentic in that practice to help with, you know, develop that pipeline that you're speaking of?
You know, and I've done some studies on that and it's always interesting how we think about like, well, money and kind of things are [inaudible] you know, the media, [inaudible] wage, it's like $70 or whatever or you have the summers off. But what really matters for most students is, you know, is the effect of employment is exciting. And you know, these interpersonal connections with professors and school psychologists, those are the ones that are some of the most impactful. What are the benefits of the field and do I care about those benefits? These are some of the ones that really matter most. So I always suggest creating human connections. I mean, just exposure itself, you know, is important, right? You have the mirror exposure effect and the more times you see something, the more you like it. So it's important to be, you know, for the field to be seen and be visible.
But it's also important to be -- have representation, have human connections making the interactions. So I always recommend that school psychologists and schools go out and like be visible. Help. Don't hide in your offices. Always -- as a professor -- I always try to give a talk in the undergraduate classes and try to be personable and talking about the field. You know, just being visible, being out there. And that, trying to get with it as a rewarding field. And you can give back and help others. I mean the reason that I went into school psychology is because I wanted to help kids like myself. I wanted to help underrepresented youth, you know, because this idea of this like, developmental pathway. I teach, developmental psychology courses and you know, what happens early on in life can really have a huge impact later on in life, right? You know, about the school-to-prison pipeline, you know, we know that early intervention can really have a huge impact in life outcomes and I want to be part of that and I wanted to be part of that for all youth, especially minority youth. And that's why I went into the field. So having a message like that when you're talking to minority students and being visible, I think that is how you can be in the field.
The authentic connections, developing those relationships, starting that off early, being visible on the -- in the hallways, not like you said, not just doing your -- going into the testing room and doing your testing. You know, maybe sneak in for quick observation, but going beyond that and really developing relationships, not just with the students that are potentially going into a special education or gifted and talented or whatever program, but just the students in general. Right. We're making those connections. I think that's some good feedback. Thank you for sharing.
No problem. And really to go off that is, I guess we should probably talk about like what school psychology is now, right? Because we talked about what school psychology was and has been viewed as is just testing, that is not school psychology anymore. And I always say the practice school psychology depends by that state, the district, the school. But in general, we've moved to a more preventive model. You know, we've moved to like an RTI, MTSS system level intervention model where we're not just worried about catching kids as they're drowning. We're, you know, we're trying to prevent them from falling into the water. We're trying to catch them earlier on. And a lot of it is really creating a positive school climate, you know, and so all schools benefit. But to do that we have to be visible.
We were focusing more doing on the [inaudible] and academic interventions doing counseling. So it's no longer relegated just in the role of special education, but really about, you know, helping the whole school achieve, the whole school succeed. And I think it's important to get the message out there so that, you know, students like myself when I was that age, you know, well my [inaudible] an interesting field. You only want to have an impact. We're talking about traumas, you know, trauma informed care and trauma informed schools is getting really big. We're talking about safety. You know, these are roles that school psychologists, you know, can play a part in, especially talking about the system level.
Yeah, yeah. And you're right. And I love the, like what you said about, you know, we don't want to just save the kids when they're drowning. We want to catch them before they hit the water. And I think that's, that really stood with me. So let me ask you this next question because I want to shift gears just a little bit and talk about maybe some of the benefits. You know, why, you know, we're sitting here talking about, you know, we don't have enough people of color or school psychology and we'll -- let's shift over to some of the benefits, I guess. So there's all kinds of research that talks about misevaluations and misdiagnosis and those kinds of things that happen especially to our black and brown kids, right? Or language barriers and just all the different challenges that are out there when it comes to the assessment process, too. Or even the RTI and MTSS systems. Right. So, I guess my next question is like, what does the research say about culturally competent psycho-educational services to children and families from diverse backgrounds?
And this is kind of lacking in that area. We have like the best practices and we know that it is important. We know that culture matters, it's important to adapt. Like our interventions and things who are students and there's a lot of best practice, but one of the really best, I think, takeaways is that context matters. Culture matters, history matters. This matters, you know, for all students, specifically for our most vulnerable or underserved population or minority students, you know, it's almost as soon as you have to be, you have to be, keep up with the politics of the time because that's going to impact your students, right? You have to understand their history, understand like, if you live in an area with a lot of immigrants, it's going to matter.
This is going to matter. It's your students, especially minority students. It's important to understand that, you know, and then they would be moving so often or if there's some political things going on that the parents might not be as willing to come in or to talk to you or the other students might be, you know, might be more willing to see you. These things matter. And I think that, and I'm not saying that minority school psychologists are automatically culturally competent -- they're not, you know, at the end of the day, you know, this is, we're using this as a proxy, right? We're trying to get us something deeper, which is maybe acculturation, cultural competency experiences. But ideally with, you know, with my more minority practitioners in the field, they will understand some of these issues a little bit better and they'll be able to advocate and these students will see themselves in there in the school psychologist and vice versa.
So I think that's really important. But, you know, cultural competency is important. You know, context matters. You know, there's a lot of practices and I don't know if we really want to go that in depth in like different, you know, teach a multicultural competency in some of the things we try to do. Things like understanding how language development works and how it occurs and what's normal and not normal language development, but really be a strong advocate. I've had, you know, we have issues with over-representation, we have issues with underrepresentation. I've had cases of people consult with me because the child was, they said, those nonverbal, and this was nonverbal, but because this was Spanish is their first language as a reason why I'm like, no. I talked, you know, I worked with a student, I've talked to the students for like, 10-20 minutes. Okay. No, that student is nonverbal in both languages. This child was missed for three to four years because nobody knew how to properly assess or work with the child, [inaudible], you know, so these things matter and impacts, you know, all areas of service provision, whether it's, if you're doing counseling, how to be culturally competent in that area, how they culturally [inaudible], how to modify things.
So they're more culture appropriate for the student, whether it's working with assessments, whether it's creating practices for the school, as a whole, you know, we know that seeing for kids from, for the multicultural education research, the kids seeing themselves in their environment in positive matter has a huge impact. We know that if you have a child read a positive story about his people before taking a test and showing that, you know, they can do these things that are, you know, they actually improve their scores. You know, this stuff's been done for a long, long time. Whether you're talking about, with females in math, with minorities in certain tasks and so on. This, you know, these things matter.
Let me touch on something that you mentioned earlier because it got me thinking about, because, you're bilingual, you speak English and Spanish and you shared the story earlier about the young girl. Now, what has been your experience maybe when it comes to those who aren't, you know, English is not their first language. However, the school psychologist speaks English only. And dealing with -- working with students. And what has been, maybe, your knowledge or experience having the bilingualism as an advantage? And maybe those who are just speaking one language, but they're working with students who -- English is not their first language. What has been some of your experiences there?
I mean there's different recommendations. Well, there's recommendations, right? So the first recommendations is dealt in a bilingual school (college) to do it. That's not always possible, but you know, it should be -- an attempt should be made. Then you know, then you try to recover their culture. So number one, you should test language fluency in both and not just like, you know, everyday language, but also call to academic language in both languages. Then you should try to do bilingual evaluations. If you can't do bilingual evaluations and their primary language is Spanish. They normally try to do it in nonverbal. So you do one that doesn't take language into account. Well, we've got to understand that nonverbal tests don't fill the full spectrum of what we can centralize this intelligence and so on. The more we get away from like main branch of the tree, the more other evidence that you have.
So that's when you started really getting into a lot of the classroom assignments and -- or those other artifacts to try to create a beautiful picture. I always say that a good assessment [is] to tell a beautiful story and that, you know, it should give context, it should give history, it should feel all these things. And this is important for all kids, especially when we know that the child might not be as representative in the test we're using in the Norman sample or that you have to do a nonverbal because they don't speak that language. It is a little more intricate than that. So I'm just, this is like a little synopsis of the overarching idea. And as always, you know, no assessment should be based on one measure or one test, but as you know, it's a bunch of information put together.
So any bilingual evaluation or any bilingual evaluation for my ELL students, Early Language Learner. Well, some are a little more complex or you want to rule out, I was always talk about using the scientific method. So I try to rule out things. So if it's, if I think, well it might be because the language, all right, I'm going to test that. We'll try to rule that out. Okay. [Inaudible] is not language. Okay. Maybe there's some other issues. Maybe his lack of school exposure. So I'm going to try to rule that out. Okay. No, he's been interceded by the school for a while. Okay. Part of our acculturation, no known as not acculturation, you know, rule that out. So the [inaudible], you know what it is, you know, maybe the child does have a disability or maybe the child has a specific learning disability. So that's the way that I go about it in that I recommend, given that you know that we're talking within a brief moment, it's a lot more complex than that.
I'm sure. Yeah. Okay. I got you. I got you. I'm with you. Okay. Now let me ask you this next question. So we talked about, you know, we need more school psychologists of color and we talked about some recruiting strategies. Are there some more recruiting strategies that you can, you know, in your research? And then if, so the other thing that we have to discuss is the retention part. So how do we keep our potential school psychologists of color in our programs and ultimately into the schools. And then of course we want them to stay there as well. So what are some of your thoughts there?
Yeah, so I mean there's a guideline that guides the line out there that I helped create for NASP National Associated with School Psychology, Recruitment, and Retention. But just, you know, just some general stuff, really part of this is about more exposure. School psychology. It's just being out there a lot more and people seeing it and presenting it as an exciting, beneficial field. Minority students and their communities, you know, something that they could do and they could fit in and be supported by fit’s really important, especially in graduate school. Right. If you don't feel like you're supporting fit in a program, especially if you're a minority, you know, you're less likely to go into [inaudible], more likely due to drop out. You know, in creating a pipeline to know that just from elementary to middle and middle to -- and then high school and college and so on throughout, but also to other universities that might be like HPC use and so on.
Or they produce and have a high level of minority students. They kind of just go into your programs, you know, having that really, that contact and having those connections. Do presentations in high schools, middle schools, and so on. We've written a couple -- I'm part of the graduate committee for NASP, which is under permanent [inaudible] retention, so on, on committee. And we really like, we've done different efforts like, writing an article for [inaudible], which is the psychology newspaper magazines looking for students. You know, I think somebody wrote an article about shootings. I believe that's correct. You know, in [inaudible] pieces that can catch people's eyes and how school psychologists can benefit. Presenting an undergraduate classroom, really fighting for our place in the table. You know, a lot of it, I guess they were underrepresented in undergraduate curricula, in undergraduate textbooks.
Really, you know, just fighting for a place. You know, we're important, we matter, too. We have an impact. Public awareness campaigns, you know, personal contact, really pushing that affective, the emotional component in that what we do impacts kids and it matters. Really having a more coordinated effort. Having more minority faculty at university and having more minority students and having active research, you know, having them feeling accepted, providing funding for students to go into these fields. Where I ended up going to for grad school, one of the reasons, it had a good program with an urban focus and that's why I wanted to go there. But I got accepted by another program was also really good and also had a similar focus. But funding, you know, one of the main reasons I went with, because of funding, right? I didn't grow up rich.
I'm not rich now. This doesn't mean I grew up rich and you know, graduate education is expensive. Funding was huge. You know, I think something that's important, too, for the retention piece, you know, I work less in retention. But I think, especially for minority faculty and students is really feeling accepted. Like you fit in support. I'm talking to a lot of students, minority students, lots of times they feel, especially in graduate schools, they feel alienated. You know, they feel like they're a token, they feel like they have to speak for their whole race, you know, they feel isolated, you know, and that does a lot to impact your, you know, overall wellbeing and their satisfaction. I mean, if they don't finish graduate school and they drop out and they quit, if you feel like that and you're a professor, you leave, go somewhere else. Are you going to private practice?
Joel, I definitely consider you as -- I mean, you've been dropping nugget after nugget, gem after gem today. I definitely consider you as providing a voice in Leading Equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?
One final word of advice. I think that we must embark on this journey together, which is, you know, better for the lives of minority underserved students. So I like the acronym of embark, which for me is, stands to innovate, to be different, try something new, if it's not working, do something else, right? To mentor, mentoring future generations. Well, not just future generations, but also you know colleagues, right? We all have different strengths and weaknesses. We don't have to compete with each other, we can help each other out. To believe, you know, the audacity of hope, you know, believe in your students, believe in yourself, your belief has been shown to have, you know, to be powerful for change. You know, you have medical trials, you have the placebo effect, right? If you believe something could work, it often can. That's important. Being an advocate, an advocate for your students, for your schools, for your community, for your colleagues. Risks. True change is not achieved without taking risks, right? We're never going to make real change. If you don't risk something, I think sometimes we're just too comfortable or scared to lose what we have. And I think last but not least: challenge. To challenge your students, to challenge yourself and to challenge the system.
Challenge the system. Man, embark, embark. So thank you. If we have some folks that want to reach out to you and they want to connect with you, what's the best way to connect with you online?
Yeah, by email. Just email me. [email protected]
Okay. I will leave a link in the show notes if that's ok with you, Joel.
Yeah, no problem.
Okay, Joel, it has been a pleasure. I'm with Dr. Joel Bocanegra, my guy, someone I hang out with, someone that, you know, good friend of mine. We kick it all the time and I appreciate your time to come on the show. It's been great. Thank you so much.
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