A SUPERB Experience for School Psychology Students
A SUPERB Experience for School Psychology Students
Project SUPERB (Scholars Using Psychology and Education to Reach Bilinguals), an initiative within the school psychology master’s program, began in 2014 with the mission of providing more and better-qualified bilingual (Spanish-English) school psychologists to serve the growing population of Spanish-speaking children. The grant helped school psychology faculty to develop a bilingual track within the program that will continue even after the end of the grant-funding period.
Project SUPERB is highly selective, accepting only eight students each year. Those students then receive an annual stipend from a Department of Education grant that can be used toward their tuition costs. Upon completing the program, students receive a specialist degree in school psychology and a certificate in bilingual school psychology. In addition to their stipend, students receive funds for professional development and memberships, as well as a fully-funded immersion experience.
The program is run by three faculty and staff in the Counseling, Leadership, Adult Education and School Psychology Department. Dr. Cindy Plotts and Dr. Jon Lasser, both school psychology professors, are the principal investigators for the grant, while Maria Sanchez serves as the grant coordinator. Dr. Plotts, who is the project director, describes the immersion experience as a combination of field outings to educational sites and consistent self-reflection. The educational site that stands out most to Cristina Rodriguez, a Project SUPERB student, is the Blanca E. Sanchez Elementary School, which runs a dual-language program that teaches students to read, write and speak in both Spanish and English. “We got to sit and talk with the principal and see how she ran her dual-language program,” Rodriguez reflects. “The way she interacted with her colleagues
and the students was genuine, and it was just nice to see that.”
Another student, Dulce Gonzalez, found the time the group spent at La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) most inspiring. LUPE is a community union founded by César Chavez in 1989 that provides social services such as health outreach and legal assistance. “Hearing their stories and hearing about what sort of work they’re doing was really great because we’re going to work in a school setting, so it was really nice to hear what is going on in the community,” Gonzalez says.
Ivelisse Ramos describes the group’s visit to the United States/Mexico border as “eye opening.” "It makes you think about it,” she says, “I was just there three weeks ago and now it’s [on the news].” Her personal experience visiting the border now allows her to see those news stories from a different perspective.
"You can understand another person's language...but it's also about understanding their culture, where they're coming from, the different experiences they've had."
-Ivelisse Ramos, Project SUPERB Student
Graduates of Project SUPERB have a service obligation to work for two years in public schools where their services are considered high-need for each year of grant funding they received, totaling six years of service for those who complete the program in three years. This service obligation not only assists in meeting the needs of Spanish-speaking students and parents in public schools, but also produces the next generation of bilingual supervisors who can oversee field work for future bilingual school psychology students.
For Ramos, the Llano Grande immersion experience was essential to informing her future career as a bilingual school psychologist. “You can understand another person’s language … but it’s also about understanding their culture, where they’re coming from, the different experiences they’ve had.” Similarly, Gonzalez notes that “a student doesn’t come without a story” and that it is important to know people’s stories in order to help them better themselves in their educations.
During the trip, students are encouraged to think about their own histories, as well, and reflect on their own dual-language experiences. Gonzalez, who is originally from the Rio Grande Valley, said that the immersion trip reinforced “being really in touch with our personal stories and especially how your story intersects with language and your culture.” Another student, Christina Cavazos, said that learning about her own story and the stories of those in her cohort helped her to see students “as individuals rather than a collective.” This self-reflection is something all the students in the Project SUPERB cohort felt was important to encourage in their future students.
Overall, as these students move on to the final year of their program, they are thankful to Project SUPERB. Rodriguez says the program allowed her to be “part of a group where we can just share our experiences and feel comfortable doing so.” Likewise, Karen Salazar says SUPERB has uniquely prepared her for her career by giving her a “free place to practice my Spanish and my bilingual skills.” As of May 2019, Project SUPERB has produced 27 graduates, all of whom will be sharing their unique bilingual school psychology expertise with public schools across the country. Although the funding period is complete, school psychology faculty are excited to continue offering a Spanish-English bilingual track within the program.