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UTSA School Psychology MA Program: Serving the Latino Community through Culturally Responsive Training

UTSA School Psychology MA Program: Serving the Latino Community through Culturally Responsive Training

The School Psychology Master’s Program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), a Carnegie designated R1 Hispanic Serving Institution, is housed within the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) and is ideally located in San Antonio’s urban core on the Downtown campus. The UTSA School Psychology Program admitted its first students in the Fall of 2010 and, since then, has evolved to align with best practices and the highest standards for training and practice, earning the reputation as one of the best Master’s programs in South Texas. The program was originally accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) in the Spring of 2018 and was recently granted re-accreditation in the Spring of 2023. 

The UTSA Master’s program in School Psychology is designed to meet the curricular and practical training requirements for state licensure as a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology and national certification as a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. The program is a 66-credit hour program that can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis and includes a 300-hour school-based practicum and a 1,200-hour internship completed in the final year of study. Graduate students complete their internships in schools across Texas and beyond. While many of our graduate students desire to serve local school children, others seek an impact outside the state and have completed their internships in Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, Florida, California, Utah, and Hawaii. 

To date, UTSA School Psychology faculty have graduated approximately 200 students in cohort sizes ranging from 15 to 21. National statistics show that the profession is predominately white female. Thus, our mission is not only to grow but also to diversify the workforce by recruiting graduate students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. These efforts have paid off: over half of our graduate students are of Latinx heritage. 

The School Psychology program at UTSA is largely practice-oriented, but one in which practice is informed by science. Our students obtain a solid foundation in research methods, statistics, test psychometrics, and theories of learning and development before applying these concepts in the more advanced courses, fieldwork, practicum and internship. Embedded fieldwork experiences are intentionally completed in underserved settings and support students of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. To support graduate students’ work in these settings, we have strategically infused culturally responsive practices into our training curriculum and each of our courses. Faculty are committed to training and mentoring Latinx graduate students to effectively serve the growing number of Latinx school children, and we are proud to recognize that half of our faculty come from similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds to the graduate students and school children that we serve.

To reinforce our emphasis on evidence-based practice, faculty members are among the most prolific and operate active research labs. The UTSA COEHD provides biannual travel grants to support graduate student conference presentations, enabling graduate students to attend state and national conferences and many publish with faculty before they graduate. 

We also believe it is critical to recruit and retain Latinx graduate students to increase the number of Latinx graduate students in the pipeline for advanced degrees, especially in the area of School Psychology, in which Latinos are historically and currently underrepresented. In line with these goals, we have developed a comprehensive yet targeted recruitment plan, attracting students from the larger metropolitan and rural San Antonio area, which is predominately Latinx. For these events, faculty meet with psychology clubs and organization members and visit undergraduate psychology classrooms. To expand our recruitment reach, we hold biannual virtual open house events to share about our program, projects, funding opportunities, and faculty. Most recently, the School Psychology program was recognized by Excelencia in Education, a recognition reserved for programs that intentionally recruit and support students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and implement responsive practices to ensure student success and retention.

To aid recruitment and retention, faculty work tirelessly to obtain funding to increase accessibility and affordability for underrepresented groups. This year, faculty was awarded over 4 million dollars in federal funding to support graduate student training and specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis, Deaf Education, and behavioral and mental health. An obligation within these grants, in exchange for funding, is to stay local and/or work in high needs settings. 

Over the years, the UTSA faculty have worked to develop a program that meets the needs of graduate students and an increasingly diverse student body. To do this, the faculty have been responsive, flexible, available, and productive -all of which are reflected in the graduate student experience at UTSA, expressed in the following quotes:

“There is not a university that is dedicated to serving their community and taking the charge to amend historical inequalities more so than UTSA. What I have seen and experienced within the School Psychology Department at UTSA is a group of professors and students who work tirelessly and dedicate themselves every day to the highest standards of academic rigor and success while simultaneously working to provide educational support and mental health services to underserved school districts within our community. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of Project BEAMS, a grant funded program that partners UTSA with Southwest ISD to create a pipeline of future School Psychologists to High-Need districts in our community. Project BEAMS and UTSA have afforded me the opportunity to work within Southwest ISD to gain valuable field experience while also providing critical psychoeducational and mental health services for at-risk and marginalized populations here in San Antonio.” -Joshua Davila 2nd year graduate student.

“My experience in the school psychology program at UTSA has been nothing short of innovative, impactful, engaging, and inspiring. This program is filled with professors who are professional, approachable, knowledgeable, and passionate about preparing future school psychologists! Our professors have become mentors who are dependable and encouraging, ensuring that we feel supported each step of the way. This program has allowed me to continue developing my professional identity through lively lectures and discussions, hands-on experiences, professional training, and guidance. I am sure that the individuals I have encountered within the school psychology program, both professors and classmates, will continue to be life-long mentors and friends!” Maribel Martinez 2nd year graduate student. •


About the author

Dr. Felicia Castro-Villarreal is a Professor and Program Director for the Masters in School Psychology program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research focuses on culturally responsive practices and consultation. She is a Co-PI on several federally funded projects designed to fund graduate student training and address workforce shortages.