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NASP Communiqué, Vol. 34, #4
December 2005

Spotlight on Multicultural Affairs

Edited by Terry Bontrager, NCSP

Doctoral Training Grant at Texas A & M

The multicultural spotlight for this issue is on a specialized training program within the broader school psychology training program at Texas A&M University. In this interview, Dr. Cynthia A. Riccio and Dr. Doug Palmer discuss the Doctoral Training Grant (DTG).

When did Texas A& M University begin training multi-cultural school psychologists through the Doctoral Training Grant (DTG)? 

The School Psychology Program at Texas A & M University, like other quality school psychology programs, always has endeavored to produce school psychologists who are aware of, and sensitive to, the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse children and families.  Since 1981, under the leadership of Doug Palmer, the program has offered a specialization training program that goes beyond the school psychology foci on assessment, prevention/intervention, and consultation. The DTG provides funding for students who are bilingual in Spanish and have an interest in working not only with multicultural groups, but Hispanic children and families who are at risk for difficulties in mainstream educational programs. 

How does DTG define a “multicultural school psychologist?”

Following the Boulder model of scientist-practitioner and building on the core competencies for school psychology as defined by NASP, as well as APA, students funded through the DTG take specified coursework as well as engage in research.  Coursework beyond the core is in the areas of bilingual education, special education, bilingual assessment, cross-cultural counseling, literacy skills for second language learners, and so on to improve and expand their knowledge base in these specific areas.  S. Hector Ochoa, as a leader in the field in the area of bilingual assessment and working with English language learners, has provided much of the direction in this area. 

Specifically, DTG students receive training in 1) special education, 2) bilingual special education, and 3) school psychology, particularly in the areas of assessment, educational planning, school-wide prevention efforts, counseling, and consultation.  These individuals will likely play a major role in school district activities related to placement and programming decisions for students who are learning disabled, mildly mentally retarded, and emotionally disturbed. Project students’ bilingual competency allows them to provide direct and indirect psychoeducational services to bilingual/limited English proficient students and their families. In addition to coursework, students are involved in practica directly tied to the Hispanic child with disabilities, and they must continue to have field experience with Hispanic children and families as part of their pre-doctoral internship. 

At the same time, DTG students are involved in research teams; participate and present in state, regional and national conferences; and publish in areas related to meeting the needs of Hispanic children and families. Jorge Gonzalez’ projects with Migrant Education Even Start (MEES) and the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), and Mike Ash’s Head Start and early Head Start contracts, as well as programs and needs for migrant children, are examples of ongoing research activities that DTG students. A requirement for DTG students is that their dissertation must address an issue related to the needs of Hispanic children and families. That is, these individuals will be capable of developing new assessment procedures and instruments as well as carrying out research and program evaluation projects that will ultimately result in more valid assessment and instructional options for the Hispanic child with disabilities.  Thus, project graduates will have significant impact on the field of school psychology and special education.

What is special about the training that makes it multicultural?

As with other school psychology programs, this program infuses the need for cultural sensitivity and awareness throughout the core coursework. This is reinforced in the various practica and research experiences for all students. The program of study for the DTG students in particular differs in that there are additional courses and practica that focus on Hispanic children and youth who are educationally or emotionally at-risk or diagnosed with a disability.  While DTG students receive extensive training pertaining to research and practice with Hispanic children and families, it is noteworthy that admission to the program requires, in part, evidence of background and experience working with Hispanic populations and Spanish language competence.  In essence, the program builds on students’ multicultural knowledge and skills.  DTG students acquire cross-cultural competencies through their varied coursework that permits them to transform their knowledge about individuals or groups of individuals into specific standards, practices, and attitudes used in appropriate cultural settings to increase the quality of services offered, producing better outcomes for children and their families.

How do you measure the success of the training? What impact do you think the DTG has made on the field of school psychology?

The purpose of DTG is to recruit and train doctoral level bilingual educational leadership personnel to work with disabled Hispanic youth with learning and behavioral disabilities. The DTG at Texas A & M University has produced the largest cohort of Hispanic school psychology doctoral graduates in the United States. To date, 37 students have graduated, 5 are at dissertation phase, 2 are on internship, and 12 are in the coursework phase of the program.  Although all DTG students are bilingual in Spanish, not all the students are Hispanic.  The 37 project graduates are composed of 21 Hispanic females, 9 Hispanic males, 1 biracial female (Hispanic and African American), 5 white females, and 1 white male.

            The 37 graduates work in a variety of professional settings. Thirteen graduates (approximately 33%) are university faculty training future school psychologists and special educators (e.g., University of Puerto Rico, University of Texas – San Antonio, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts – Boston, University of Nevada – Las Vegas, California State University at Northridge).  Fifteen of the graduates work in school settings with large Hispanic populations (e.g., Dallas Independent School District, Houston Metroplex area).  In addition, one graduate works at a regional education service funded by the Texas Education Association. The school districts in which graduates and current students work serve approximately 400,158 Hispanic children and youth (TEA, 2004).        

The project has made an impact on the knowledge bases concerning assessment, educational programming, and psychological interventions for Hispanic children with disabilities via graduates,’ faculty’s, and students’ research and outreach activities. Dissertation topics have included depression, differential item functioning, use of translation, pre-referral interventions, psychopathology of Latino children in foster care, migrant children and issues, drop-out programming and Hispanic adolescents, sexual abuse in Hispanic cultures, and so on.  Other research projects that students have participated in have included psychoeducational assessment of students from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds, psychological assessment of minority students, potential referral bias in the special education process, and strength-based assessment.

Do you have any final comments?

A critical element of this grant is to recruit bilingual doctoral students and professionals in the field who have background and experience with Hispanic children and youth to get their PhD.  As part of the program, students receive training in prevention, assessment, and intervention techniques leading to certification as a school psychologist with coursework and training in special education, as well as an emphasis in bilingual special education. All project students receive ongoing training and research experience and maintain an active involvement in data collection and analysis of ongoing minority research. Anyone interested in additional information should contact: Cynthia A. Riccio, Department of Educational Psychology, Texas A & M University, TAMUS 4225, College Station, TX 77843-4225 or e-mail criccio@tamu.edu

© 2005, National Association of School Psychologists. Comments about this column should be addressed to terry.bontrager@umb.edu