“What is the biggest problem at Spanish Fork High School?” CPSE student intern Nancy Miramontes asked herself on her first day on the school campus. Describing herself as “a budding psychologist,” Miramontes says that though she lacked practical experience, she knew that her most powerful tool would be collaboration.
“So I began asking teachers, students, and general staff . . . [which] led me to the biggest issue facing Spanish Fork High School: class attendance,” Miramontes wrote in an article that has now been published in The Observer, the Utah school psychology newsletter. Her article was selected because it highlights her creative and dedicated approach to helping troubled youth at SFHS.
Though the school had recently implemented a new attendance policy, a small percentage of students continued to disregard it, often leaving classrooms early, hanging out in the hallways, deliberately disobeying teachers and security staff. Miramontes looked more into the problem and discovered that these students’ behavior was not simply a result of “hating school,” but rather a result of feeling disconnected from the school.
Many of these students were from Hispanic backgrounds and had little support from their parents, who also felt isolated and disconnected from the school due to the language barrier. In an effort to increase connectedness, Miramontes started a support group as a place where the students could “come and air out their grievances” together. Feeling comfortable in the group, the students began to talk about the various issues they were facing.
“They talked about alcohol abuse, suicide, problems related to anger, and faulty decision making,” Miramontes reported. “They talked about solutions to these problems and what they wished could be done for others.” Miramontes described how the students suggested making informational videos to communicate these messages. With her help the group, calling themselves the Anonymous Dons (Dons being their school mascot), produced four short videos based on their own personal experiences and on what they had learned as a group.
Miramontes remarked that what began as one act of collaboration turned into “an avenue for kids who were once labeled as problems to demonstrate their creativity and make a positive contribution to their school. This spirit of collaboration is what places school psychologists in prime positions to enact change.”
Miramontes explained that though she walked onto the school campus intending to help students, she was the one who benefited most from the experience. “I cannot put into words what it is like to see a student grow and evolve right before your eyes. The Anonymous Dons have given me more than they will ever know. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in education because I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives; now I realize that they are the ones making a difference in my own.”
Nancy Miramontes is a graduate student in the McKay School’s Counseling Psychology and Special Education Program. Her parents immigrated from El Salvador to Southern California where she was born and raised. Her article, based on her internship at Spanish Fork High School, was featured in The Observer, the official newsletter of the Utah Association of School Psychologists.
31 May 2010