Skip Navigation Links

NASP Communiqué, Vol. 36, #1
September 2007

Multicultural Affairs

Multicultural Training at Brigham Young University

Interview by Terry Bontrager, NCSP

The multicultural spotlight for this issue is on the school psychology training program at Brigham Young University (BYU). The program is featured as a Multicultural School Psychology Training Program on the NASP website (http://www.nasponline. org/resources/culturalcompetence/ index.aspx#programs). In this interview, Dr. Melissa A. Heath and Dr. Tim Smith discuss their program.

CQ: For how long has the training program at Brigham Young University (BYU) prepared multicultural school psychologists?

BYU: The school psychology program at BYU has addressed linguistic diversity consistently since its inception in the early 1970s. Above and beyond merely mastering a foreign language, typically 50% of graduates are fluent in a language other than English and over 25% have resided 18 months to 2 years in countries outside the United States.

Other consistent foci include lifelong learning and community service. The BYU mottos of “The World is Our Campus” and “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve” highlight the humanitarian emphases characteristic of BYU. For example, founder Brigham Young stated: “Our education should be such as to improve our minds and fit us for increased usefulness; to make us of greater service to the human family” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, pp. 83, 1854–1886). Our school psychology program grew from this basic desire: to provide useful service for the benefit of the human family.

In the 1990s, expanding our program’s spirit of service and complementing the strong base of linguistic diversity, several newly hired faculty began addressing other multicultural issues. We recognized the challenge to alter the longstanding demographics of our profession in which 95% of school psychologists across the U.S. are European American and less than 10% speak a language other than English. In contrast, students of color comprise nearly 40% of school enrollment nationally, with over 350 languages spoken in the United States and 17% of students speaking a language other than English in their homes. The BYU school psychology program actively recruits and prepares professionals who promote multicultural practices. More specifically, our program prepares future professionals who are capable of delivering effective services that are not only research based, but compatible with the unique needs of those served.

CQ: How does the training program at BYU define a multicultural school psychologist?

BYU: Our school psychology program is part of the BYU David O. McKay School of Education. Our program’s philosophy regarding multiculturalism aligns with the School of Education’s official statement, “Valuing Diversity, Aiming for Unity,” found online at: http://education. byu.edu/diversity/diversity_statement. html. This statement emphasizes: (a) spiritual connections among all people and (b) moral responsibilities to promote the welfare of others, including individuals and groups who are disenfranchised and historically oppressed.

Furthermore, training within our program adheres to and aligns with multicultural competencies and guidelines published by NASP (www.nasponline.org/ culturalcompetence/index.html)and APA (http://www.apa.org/pi/multicultural guidelines.pdf).

CQ: What is special about your program’s training that makes it multicultural?

BYU: Our program is especially multicultural for the following reasons: We infuse multicultural content in courses across the program. We emphasize bilingual assessment issues and provide a semester-long course on that topic (in addition to the required course on multicultural psychology). We are housed in the same academic department with one of the few special education programs across the nation to offer dual certification in ESL, and our students benefit from mentoring provided by that program’s faculty (chairing theses, etc.).

We offer an optional course on religious diversity taught by an internationally renowned expert in the psychology of religion (Dr. P. Scott Richards). We actively recruit and retain diverse student cohorts. Currently, 41% of students speak a language other than English, and 26% are students of color (African American, Latino/a American, Asian American, and Native American).

CQ: How do you measure the success of the training? What impact on the field of school psychology do you think your training program has made?

BYU: One indication of our success is recognition at the national level: For the past two years, a student from our program has earned the NASP Minority Scholarship (Veronica Gorgueiro in 2006 and Kaitlyn Dyson in 2007).

All students in the program complete a “Multicultural Competence Portfolio” based on the NASP and APA guidelines cited above. This portfolio includes (1) documentation of multicultural competence across 24 areas of awareness, knowledge, and skills; and (2) self-reported changes on those 24 areas over time. All students in the program complete a “multicultural service learning project” in which they provide services to individuals or organizations in the community (approximately 20 hours during their second year in the program). Example activities include providing interviews at the Utah AIDS Foundation (serving HIV-positive clients), working with after-school programs for Latino/a students, tutoring children in homeless shelters, providing respite care for families of children with severe disabilities, etc.

Each year, our students assist with a variety of university-sponsored activities, including a summer program to assist high school students of color in applying for college, Black History Month activities and programs, the annual BYU American Indian Powwow, and a variety of other cultural events. In short, we work with students who not only understand and appreciate multiculturalism but who see multicultural practice as a way of life.

CQ: Do you have any final comments?

BYU: Unfortunately, taking multicultural competence from the academic world to the real world may suffer the same fate as the popular statement, “after all is said and done, more is said than done.” The following examples portray “real life” experiences that prepare our students to provide multiculturally competent practice as school psychologists.

Over the past seven years, students in our program assisted with projects involving adolescent American Indians’ academic and career issues on the Navajo Reservation and surrounding communities. For example, last year nine students spent three days conducting intellectual and academic evaluations and generating normative data for a school district serving a large population of Native American students just outside the Navajo Reservation. Information gathered assisted in answering questions regarding the efficacy of standard placement in special education and ultimately assisted the district in determining better ways to assess and meet students’ academic needs.

Four students in our program developed a website for the BYU School of Education that provides resources regarding multicultural education. BYU faculty model professionalism and active involvement in organizations that promote multicultural competence (e.g., National Association for Multicultural Education, APA Division 45, Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development). Students are mentored by faculty with national recognition for their scholarship, such as the APA Division 45 “Emerging Scholar Award” and APA Division 36 “William C. Bier Award.” Students are involved in active research agendas that include cuttingedge work on multicultural psychology.

Students participate in a wide variety of research and thesis projects regarding multicultural issues, such as exploring refugee children’s transitions to U.S. schools, Latino/a students’ interactions with public school teachers, state guidelines regarding multicultural issues during disasters/crises (highlighted in the Communiqué), culturally sensitive crisis response to assist students and families from diverse backgrounds, etc.

Students who are fluent in Spanish and trained in crisis intervention provide counseling for children whose parents have been deported/repatriated to Mexico. Locally, there are opportunities for our graduate students to serve practicum and internship in elementary schools with over 50% Spanish-speaking enrollment. Currently, 20% of Provo School District is comprised of children who speak Spanish as a first language. Focusing on a specific incident, one practicum student worked closely with a third grade male who spoke only Spanish. This young boy (identified as legally blind) needed counseling to assist him in coping with a degenerative eye disease. His mother was comfortable in working with this particular practicum student because of her ability to communicate in Spanish. The practicum student worked closely with the child and his family for an entire school year. The site supervisor noted the effectiveness of the counseling intervention and also the strong rapport based on comfortable communication.

During their second year, students help to meet the needs of a child with a severe disability through a required “family intervention project.” Each graduate student works in a collaborative effort with one family struggling to meet the needs of a child with a severe disability. Students conduct home visits; identify a target behavior based on observations and interviews with the parent/s; and design, implement and evaluate an intervention to address the target behavior. This one-on- one home-based experience provides a host of learning opportunities for our practicum students, increasing empathy and understanding for parents’ and guardians’ 24-hour job of caring for children with challenging disabilities. In their reflection papers, graduate students note their increased sensitivity to the family’s needs. This understanding is helpful in providing a stronger link between the school and the family, ultimately increasing collaboration in meeting the students’ educational needs.

Anyone interested in further information about the program at BYU should contact Tim Smith (Phone: (801) 422-1311; e-mail: TimSmith@byu .edu) or Melissa Heath (Phone: (801) 422-1235; e-mail: MelissaAllen@byu.edu). Inquiries can also be made to the School Psychology Program, 340 MCKB, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602-5093, fax (801) 422-0198.