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When Gilma Sanchez was a student, she and her family faced traumatic hardships that went unnoticed by teachers. Now an elementary school principal, she prioritizes understanding and nurturing the whole student.

When Gilma Sanchez was nine, she and her mother, father, and five siblings lived in the state of Tamaulipas, in northeastern Mexico. Her mother was a teacher in Valle Hermoso and her father often worked in Houston-area refineries. Though Gilma and her siblings were born in Brownville, Texas, most of the life they knew was full of the beauty of Tamaulipas. There, family life was the center of everything. Growing up, children played outside most of the time and in school, they celebrated special events with parades, folkloric dances, and poetry.

But when Gilma was 10, her father died. His loss created severe emotional and financial challenges for the family. Gilma’s mother, hoping to give her daughter a better chance for stability and education, made the heart-wrenching decision to send Gilma to Baytown, southeast of Houston, to live with her father’s relatives.

“It was very difficult,” says Sanchez, reflecting on this time from her office at Barrington Elementary, on Austin’s north side, where she has been principal for four years. “I had to learn the English language and live with relatives while visiting my mom only twice a year.” She recalls the positive influence of a teacher in Baytown who became an early mentor, and though she would eventually move back home with her mother and family, “by 12th grade we were essentially homeless. My mother couldn’t afford rent on the apartment on the Texas side of the border, so we lived in Valle Hermoso and went to school in Brownsville.”

Sanchez and her younger sister would wake at 5 AM to begin their journey to school, which included a bus trip that started in one country and ended in another. “We had to walk for miles, sometimes in pouring rain, and clean ourselves up in the bus station before school.”

Sanchez graduated from high school with good grades, but it saddens her that no teacher or administrator noticed the hardships she and her sister went through. “No one even asked,” she says.

That lack of acknowledgement of the personal struggles she and and other students faced would have a profound influence on the direction of Sanchez’s career.

Because she didn’t receive counseling that implied otherwise, the young high school graduate assumed she had to pay for college herself. “So I immediately started working. I became assistant lead cashier at Weiner’s,” she says, laughing. She worked forty hours a week, got married, started a family, and kept pushing forward on her college goals until she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American and began her career as an elementary school teacher in Weslaco, Texas.

“Through it all, there was never a question as to what I would do. The drive was always in me to finish school and to become a teacher. That was a given,” she explains. “But I thought teaching would be the end goal.”

She quickly found that although she enjoyed it, classroom teaching limited the impact she had on students’ lives.

“I wanted to give what I hadn’t gotten to my students.” She decided to return to school to become a counselor. After two years counseling at Reagan High School in Austin, Sanchez was a counselor at Langford Elementary for three years. “I wanted to help with the early stage of students’ lives. Counseling not only let me help with their emotional issues, but it let me see the administrative side of education.”

It turned out to be great preparation for what would become the next step in her evolution as an educational leader. Both an assistant principal and principal at Langford recommended Sanchez for the UT Principalship Program at the College of Education.

According to Sanchez, “The program built our capacity as leaders.”

The courses were aligned with what you’d really see in the school setting. We tied current research to real events that allowed us to see inside a school—beyond the classroom perspective—before becoming responsible for a school.”

By the time she’d begun her second year, Sanchez was assistant principal of Austin’s Cunningham and Zilker Elementary schools. “Being able to start as an administrator while still in the program meant that I received a lot of valuable support from my cohort and program leaders while I was in my first year as an assistant principal.”

She says that the program helped her look at the overall organization and build capacity on her campus. “As a leader, I look at the data consistently. I have conversations with teachers. I visit the classrooms. I counsel. I focus on the emotional state of students and help the teachers do the same. But I can’t do everything. I have to build the capacity of my team and teachers, as well as the parents and other specialists on campus. It’s a holistic approach.”

That holistic approach is important at every school, and Barrington is no exception. “Seventy-four percent of our students are bilingual. Many of them are homeless or from immigrant families where the socioeconomic status is low.” She gestures to a closet in her office, “I keep clothes here for students who need them.” She also keeps a pair of flats handy, so she can change out of heels to quickly track down a student and keep him or her safe.

Sanchez believes the holistic approach to educational leadership that the program prepared her for has helped her improve the educational experience for her young students. “I can tell that the campus has improved based on parental feedback. The parents feel safe and welcome here and that positively affects student behavior.” She has personally hired most of the teachers now working at Barrington, and she’s had candid conversations with them.

“I explain what we are about,” she says. “Teachers can’t come to Barrington expecting only to teach. The students have emotional needs, and understanding and tending to them have to be the basis of what we do.”

“I explain to my teachers, ‘You cannot make assumptions.’ A lot of the parents don’t read or write. Many of them work well into the night or early in the morning. It’s not unusual for me to see little kids sitting on the curb, waiting for school to open, when I arrive here at 6:30 in the morning. You must build those relationships with the students and the parents. Once you do that, they will trust you. Because of my background, I don’t need a translator and that also helps with the parental partnerships.”

When reflecting on her passion for the community at Barrington, Sanchez says, “My school is not at the top academically yet, but that is our goal. Right now, we are taking care of challenges as we support the whole child. I love what I do, even with the struggles that we face as a campus.”

She pauses and flashes a brilliant smile: “I tell my students that challenges are there to build you and make you stronger.”

And Gilma Sanchez has the story to prove it.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

UT College of Education student Alyssa Mayleen Mermea combines new interests with long-standing ones, earns Washington, D.C., internship

Nurturing a long-standing interest in counseling within minority communities, Alyssa Mermea traveled from her home in El Paso to The University of Texas at Austin to study psychology. She was interested in developing a safe place for minorities to talk with someone. “We don’t talk about mental health in our communities,” she explains, “and I believe that conversation—allowing people to safely let everything out—can change lives. I’m passionate about that.”
Alyssa Mermea

Mermea became involved with the university’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) chapter, a branch of the nationwide organization that works to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health, and civil rights of the Hispanic population in the United States. There, she met then-president of the university’s LULAC chapter, Maria Librado ‘14, who was a youth and community studies major at the College of Education.

“I wasn’t happy as a psychology major, and I talked to Maria about it,” says Mermea. “She showed me the degree requirements for her major and the concentrations were everything I could ask for. I transferred. It’s a smaller school and I connect well with the professors.”

Mermea became director of education at LULAC, which fit well with her interests. “Part of LULAC’s mission is community and advocacy,” she says. LULAC gave her the opportunity to attend the EMERGE Latino conference, a multi-day leadership conference that takes place in Washington D.C. There, she had a chance to witness public policy briefings on public health, education, and immigration, and received training in civic engagement and advocacy. Says Maria, “We attended a panel discussion that seemed like gibberish and I had absolutely no interest. But I fell in love with D.C. and got more involved.”

The experience changed her previous perceptions about politics and public policy.

“I began having conversations about politics and it became a part of my life,” she says.

“Witnessing advocacy on the Hill, I began to wonder how I could be the voice in the room next time. I started to understand the vocabulary, demeanor, and tone to get things done on the Hill, and why it was relevant to be more politically educated.”

Alyssa MermeaMermea decided to apply to become a congressional intern through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, headquartered in D.C. “The program is about helping people understand how legislators work,” she explains. “It’s a prestigious and competitive application process. I was nervous because I am not a political science or government major, and my resume doesn’t show a keen interest in politics. But I did it anyway. I figured if I didn’t get it, at least I took a risk to educate myself, and if I failed, it wouldn’t diminish anything that I’ve accomplished to date.”

Mermea got the call in June that she was accepted and would be an intern with Congressman Lloyd Doggett from Texas in the fall.

In her internship, she fielded phone calls, took notes, “and went to briefings that interested me,” she says. “I met three presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, and shook President Obama’s hand.” Another highlight was helping LULAC high schoolers who visited from San Marcos and San Antonio. “I saw them take interest in this at a young age and I was able to be in a position that was meaningful and inspirational to them.”Hilary Clinton

Mermea says that the experience has been very valuable to her regarding her community-service goals. “Spending time getting constituents’ information through to their representative has given me an appreciation for what the city and community want and need. I recognize the issues and am learning how Congress works. Learning what our people really want has helped me learn how I can connect with my community.”

One of a cohort of 22 interns that included students with diverse interests, such as political science and law, Mermea says they’ll continue to use each other as a network in the future. And her interests have broadened to include her new knowledge. “Now that I’ve been here and see people who look like me, I’m interested in going to graduate school and working for the Department Education,” she says.

Alyssa MermeaMermea intends to leave Texas for the Midwest or Northeast and cites her love of travel as “part of what drives my passion for diversity and perspective of cultures and people all over the nation and the world. I am exploring how I can take this knowledge and translate what I’ve learned to those who may never have this experience in my community. I want people—especially those back home, my family, my community—to witness and experience that there is no limit to what we can do.”

Superintendent Paul Cruz

Superintendent Cruz speaking at the convocation for incoming graduate students in Educational Administration.

When Paul Cruz was growing up, the South Texas native was encouraged by his family to pursue higher education and strongly encouraged by his father to attend The University of Texas at Austin. “My dad wanted to attend UT, but he never did, so he really wanted his children to fulfill that dream.” Despite an initial preference for Texas A&M, Cruz acquiesced to his father’s wishes and became a Longhorn, enrolling as an education major with a specialization in English.

“What sparked my desire to teach was my love of literature and enjoyment of literature classes. I particularly enjoy Emily Dickinson and have always liked talking to others about her work,” he says. “As an undergraduate I took courses in literacy and reading, which I later used as a classroom teacher. I also had a chance to study science methods and instruction from Dr. James Barufaldi. Through him, I learned how to engage students in their own learning.”

“To this day, when I observe classroom teaching, I am often looking for the level of engagement of students,” Cruz remarks of his visits to classes within the Austin school district.

Cruz taught for several years, but he always had a goal of earning his Ph.D. before the age of 30. He returned to UT and at 29, earned a doctorate from the College of Education. “I decided to pursue the Ph.D. in educational leadership, specifically focused on urban school superintendency. Also, working at the Texas Education Agency gave me a statewide perspective and understanding of urban school environments,” he explains.

While in the program, he became a fellow in the Cooperative Superintendency Program, which prepares future urban school superintendents. “I learned organizational theory, political environments of school systems—and the importance of establishing a strong network,” Cruz says. “I was taught about the importance of developing positive relationships with leaders throughout the country and state, in part from the example of [College of Education] Dean Manuel Justiz, who is an amazing leader. He really understands the value of relationships and partnerships.”

Superintendent Paul Cruz

Superintendent Cruz shares insights on key attributes of leadership at Education Administration convocation.

According to Cruz, developing positive strategic relationships is essential to addressing the challenges urban school districts face. “Urban schools today have to be nimble and responsive to meet the education needs of current students, especially in the face of ever-changing demographics. It’s important to establish relationships with different organizations within communities, from governmental entities to area nonprofits.” He says that developing these partnerships and collaborating with organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs and Communities in Schools can help school districts provide supports for students and their families.

A network of supports for students and their families is also important for urban school districts because many districts struggle with a lack of resources. “Our district [AISD] is property wealthy, and we have a recapture system, which translates into sending local dollars to the state. That adds complexity to how we meet the needs of our students,” says Cruz. But he adds, “It’s fun to collaborate with organizations to problem-solve better solutions to our complex problems.”

“There’s so much human potential in our students,” he says. “We all want them to learn more, experience more. We have high expectations of them and want to facilitate their learning without placing any cap on it.”

The superintendent also leads by example as a lifelong learner. Even after 29 years as a teacher and leader in education, his own love of literature, for example, remains unabated. “I have apps on my phone and keep a book open all the time. My current one is a collection of Emily Dickinson. I still really love her poetry, and it’s easy to fit a quick read in between meetings and other activities.”

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

A University of Texas College of Education Ph.D. student reflects on summer internship at the U.S. Department of Education

Anthony LeClair

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Educational Policy and Planning doctoral student Anthony Vincent LeClair spent part of this past summer in Washington, D.C. as an Archer Scholar. He describes the career-making experience as invaluable. Here are his reflections of his work.

I spent this past summer in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD) at the U.S. Department of Education. There, I became part of the research staff providing technical expertise and policy recommendations to presidential appointees, including the Secretary of Education. This office relies heavily on the rigorous academic research being conducted in our institutions of higher education and our not-for-profit policy and research centers. Research is employed daily to craft policy recommendations, respond to criticism, and to address the issues under the department’s authority.

The office moves quickly and everyone puts in 10 hours daily. A “high-boil ask” may need to be turned around in less than an hour. This includes vetting the Secretary or an Undersecretary’s speeches for factual accuracy, running quick data analyses, and providing technical assistance on the scope and practicality of new research findings. A “low-boil ask,” like drafting research background and justification for a large-scale department study to be vetted by The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), will need to be on your director’s desk in 10 days. This process, often contracted out, includes discussing pertinent issues with a purposive sample of schools and organizations, crafting survey instruments, calculating the full cost to all parties, and creating a compelling written case for its necessity. All projects occur simultaneously, and staff is held to the highest of standards. It can be chaotic, but there is nothing like knowing you are essential to the department’s short-term and long-term work.

Beyond the everyday quick-turnaround work, I carried two long-term projects this summer. The first required a fair amount of discretion, as it applied the department’s long-term understanding and future plans for school-level racial and economic integration. I was incredibly privileged to take lead on the presentation of research regarding integration and segregation in the United States. I provided a comprehensive look at the state of the field. The most consistent finding in relation to school racial composition shows black students are disproportionately negatively impacted by remaining in segregated schools. Widely circulated, this review will be an important document for the department moving forward.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Anthony LeClair

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Anthony LeClair

The second project, which will have a greater national impact on the research community, pertained to statutory and regulatory guidance for states reporting their “economically disadvantaged” student statistics. While most states, including Texas, use the highly convenient, though poor, proxy of Free and Reduced Price Lunch to determine disadvantage, the new Community Eligibility Provision has rendered this proxy effectively unreliable. States are currently grappling with this problem and are either looking for guidance from the department, or moving forward with direct certification of students whose families are enrolled in joint federal-state entitlement programs (SNAP, TANF, FDPIR). This second option, if used exclusively, will render all students who are legally ineligible for federal and state assistance (including children of undocumented immigrants and any child living in a residence where a convicted state drug felon resides) to be designated “economically advantaged.”

This change will have significant consequences for our students, as well as our states. Our working team’s recommendation addressed this very significant issue. The Department of Education is currently working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to draft regulations addressing which students shall not be left out of this calculation, while our staff is pushing statutory tweaks as the House and Senate confer on ECAA.

This internship was the most substantive and rewarding experience of my career. In the months that followed, I was heavily recruited by a handful of other offices and another agency. Each person I spoke with strongly encouraged me to apply for the Presidential Management Fellow program, which is the quickest path to being hired by a federal agency. I met, had intense and substantive conversations, and became friends with major allies of public education in D.C.

This experience allowed me to start my career in the most meaningful manner possible.

Clinical Professor Dolly Lambdin’s retirement from UT won’t curtail her leadership in children’s physical education and health.

The year Rocky won three academy awards, Jimmy Carter was elected president, and America celebrated its 200th birthday was also the year that saw clinical professor Lambdin venture from New York City to Austin, bringing her passion for physical education to the Kinesiology and Health Education Department in the College of Education. It was the beginning of a 40-year teaching career at UT.

Since 1976, says Lambdin, the school has shifted strongly toward a public health focus.

“I’m excited about the move toward preventative health in physical education,” says Lambdin, whose enthusiasm for her work only grew stronger over the years. “Our society focuses on health care, but our program is about helping people develop healthy lifestyles.

We are about physical education for all kids all the time.

This shift in the conceptualization, purpose, and teaching of physical education is one that Lambdin not only has been a part of at UT and in Texas K-12 schools, but also has helped lead across the nation.

A Unique Dual-Teaching Career

After Lambdin completed her master’s degree and taught in a New York City K-8 school, an opportunity opened up at UT Austin for her to instruct future physical education teachers. It was a chance she didn’t want to pass up, but she also wanted to continue teaching PE.

Professor Dolly Lambdin

UGS 303 Advanced Weight Training

“Waneen Spirduso [then-chair of the KHE department] was an out-of-the-box thinker,” says Lambdin. So was the head of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Elementary School in Austin, and they agreed to allow Lambdin to teach in both locations, simultaneously.

With that, Lambdin became a teacher of elementary students who also taught teachers. “My dual career allowed me to be thoughtful about teaching teachers. Teaching at St. Andrew’s allowed me to see what worked and what didn’t,” she says.

Lambdin taught in both locations for a decade before leaving St. Andrews to focus on her growing family and to pursue her doctorate. By the mid-1990s, “I wanted to get back to the classroom and accepted a position at Blanton Elementary in Austin.”

At UT, Lambdin taught multiple courses across two departments—KHE and Curriculum and Instruction. Because she taught Intro to Teaching, Teaching Methods and the Student Teaching Seminar, she was able to develop a strong rapport with students and see them develop over time. “I supervised student teachers while I also taught,” she says, which gave her access to lots of new ideas and teaching innovations that she could share broadly. “I liken myself to a honeybee, finding these terrific ideas from each teacher and spreading them around like pollen.”

Professor Dolly Lambdin

EDC 370E Teaching Elementary Physical Education

Of the 600 student teachers who’ve graduated from the UT program in the last 40 years, Lambdin has supervised a whopping 150 of them. Some have taught more than 30 years, but even if they averaged 5-year careers, she says, “that means since physical education teachers often teach 200-300 new students each year, more than a half million elementary students have been taught by teachers from our program.”

That also means that more than 100,000 have been influenced by teachers Dolly has personally taught and mentored. “Some of the teachers have gone on to become National Board Certified Teachers, Teacher of the Year for their school and state, and school district supervisors,” she says, proudly.

“These people are producing a healthier society, which is critical for a successful society. They are going to change the world.”

Leader in Physical Education Curriculum Development

Former president (2003-04) of National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and past president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America), Lambdin remains passionate about children’s physical health and education. Her unique perspective and career led her to be called on to help guide physical education curriculum and standards in Texas and beyond.

She was an original member of the committee that created the first curriculum framework for the state of Texas for physical education. The committee was tasked with writing Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for PE.

Her efforts helped launch new guidelines for PE, with a focus on children’s motor skills, fitness, and social skills. “Coordinated School Health, where physical education and health education concepts are integrated throughout the school—including the cafeteria and communication with parents, has became law in Texas and is spreading across the nation.”

Dolly Lambdin with Dr. Bartholomew after receiving the 2013-1014 Teaching Excellence Award.

Dolly Lambdin with Dr. Bartholomew after receiving the Teaching Excellence Award 2013-2014.

In addition, Lambdin helped create a national seminal document Get Adobe Reader that helps teachers “replace negative practices like having kids pick teams and putting them on the spot, and focusing more on empowering kids to take care of their bodies,” she says.

These guidelines are also highlighted in the relatively new Physical Education Teacher Education graduate program that involves faculty from Curriculum and Instruction and Kinesiology and Health Education.

KHE Chair John Bartholomew says, “I’m proud to have had a leader of her quality represent the department so well nationally while maintaining her work with undergraduates. Her impact has been impressive.”

What’s Next?

Lambdin says of her future goals, “My own desire is to make physical education a kids’ movement, helping them to develop the skills, knowledge, confidence, and determination to live a healthy life.”

And it’s that desire that continues to drive her. After retiring from UT this winter, she intends to do more national work. “I really want the public to see the power and positive impact of physical education. I want to help showcase what great programs are doing so that people recognize their power and desire it for their kids,” she says. “Every child should be ‘turned on’ to physical activity and have the skills and knowledge to make healthy choices.”

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

UT College of Education’s Superintendency Program attracts and prepares education leaders of the future. Houston Independent School District’s Rick Cruz is one of those leaders.

When Rick Cruz was a 5th grade teacher at Joe E. Moreno Elementary in the Houston Independent School District, his students achieved the highest state standardized testing results in the school’s history, with 93 percent passing the exam and 58 percent earning the commended level. Cruz was named Teacher of the Year two years in a row.

Rick Cruz

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Yet he quickly learned that no matter how successful his students were in the classroom, few of them would actually make it past high school. “They didn’t have the support necessary to actually go on to college,” says Cruz.

Ninety-eight percent of the student population at the elementary were economically disadvantaged and most had no family members who’d attended college. Yet Cruz, who’d double majored in literature and Portuguese at Yale University, knew that colleges were looking for kids just like them to enroll in their schools, and that many highly selective colleges offered qualified students from underserved communities full scholarships and life-changing opportunities.

“I began organizing after-school workshops with fellow teachers to help students and their families learn what it takes to get into these highly selective schools,” Cruz says.

Interest in the workshops grew. Cruz then founded and led a 501(c3) nonprofit organization called the EMERGE Fellowship and the program spread across HISD. It’s currently serving more than 750 students and has helped nearly 200 students gain entry and scholarships allowing them to attend colleges like Harvard, Yale, Penn, Rice, Stanford, Cornell, and Smith.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier had originally encouraged Cruz to start EMERGE and provided the support to expand the program. Says Cruz, “[Grier] was excited about the success of the program and wanted to see it implemented even more widely throughout HISD. He asked me to become an assistant superintendent. I tried to say no because I was initially apprehensive about becoming an administrator.”

But Cruz changed his mind when Grier shared his story. When Grier was a senior in high school, he asked his counselor about the logistics of taking the SAT to gain entrance into college. His counselor tried to dissuade him and told him he’d be better suited for military service given his family’s low-income background. One of Grier’s teachers overheard the conversation and gave him money out of her own pocket to take the test. “Terry’ sincerity and passion for helping students access postsecondary opportunities persuaded me to take on the role,” says Cruz.

Cruz led the district’s College Readiness division for two years as assistant superintendent, preparing 215,000 students across 282 schools for post-secondary success. In that role, he scaled EMERGE, increased scholarship and financial aid offers by more than $70 million, and helped the district achieve record-breaking performance levels on AP, SAT and other college readiness indicators.

Because of the progress made, the district was awarded an $8.5 million grant from a local foundation to scale college readiness efforts even further and ensure that quality college advising was available to all students in the district. Cruz was also recognized by Houston Mayor Annise Parker for his contributions to education and had a day named in his honor.

Cruz was subsequently promoted to major projects officer for the district, a role in which he is responsible for leading several of the district’s key initiatives, including a secondary transformation initiative fueled by a $30 million Race to the Top Grant.

Still, he felt he needed to continue his education. “It was a big jump from teaching to being an administrator and I knew there was a lot I still wanted and needed to learn.” A colleague had earned his Ed. D. in educational administration from the UT College of Education’s Cooperative Superintendency Program and recommended Cruz. “UT’s program is one of the best in the country,” says Cruz, “and I’m learning from the cohort as well as the professors.”

Cruz says what he most enjoys about the program is that it “marries theory with practice; it provides me with a conceptual understanding of the work I am doing, as well as practical ways to improve upon it.” Cruz is also extremely impressed by the strength of the department’s alumni network and feels that he has already grown significantly as a result of the program. “I look forward to becoming a more effective educator and leader,” he says, “and I am excited by the prospect of having a greater impact on the lives of students as a result.”

Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk Executive Director Sharon Vaughn joined a panel of national experts at the White House on November 17 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in Washington, D.C.

Sharon Vaughn at the White House

Vaughn’s presentation on successful research-based interventions for literacy (which can be viewed at this link) took place at the U.S. Department of Education’s Barnard Auditorium. Joining her on the panel were distinguished researchers from across the nation, including Sue Swenson (family engagement), Lynn Fuchs (mathematics), Rob Horner (school climate/social and behavior), Lise Fox (early childhood), Michael Wehmeyer (inclusion), Lisa Dieker (teacher training), and David Test (secondary/transition).

According to the Department of Education, “When IDEA was enacted in 1975, America pledged to provide and ensure that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents and contribute to their communities. That pledge endures today and IDEA continues to provide not only access to the school house, to assessment, and to the general curriculum, but the full promise of inclusion, equity, and opportunity.”

Educational Psychology Professor Toni Falbo and graduate student Sophia Y. Hooper recently conducted and published a meta-analysis of research into China’s only children.

Though in October 2015, China announced that it will allow two children for every couple, effectively dismantling its  one-child policy, the one-child policy had been in effect since the late 1970s. Falbo and Hooper’s research uncovered that in certain contexts the country’s only children have benefited from less psychopathology, like anxiety and depression.

Toni Falbo and graduate student Sophia Y. Hooper

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

“Broadly speaking, there’s a slight advantage for China’s only children in terms of symptoms of psychopathology,” explained Professor of Educational Psychology Falbo. But the findings vary based on whether the only children meet social expectations.

“We quantitatively synthesized the results of 22 studies that compared Chinese only children to their peers. When the sample was college students, only children had lower psychopathology. When the sample consisted of military recruits, however, only children reported more symptoms of psychopathology,” explained Falbo.

The researchers interpret this difference in terms of meeting expectations consistent with social class. In 1979, China began instituting a one-child policy, which, alongside other national policies, was aimed at accelerating the country’s economic development. China began incentivizing parents to invest in quality over quantity with regards to children, providing one-child families with benefits like extra pay and priority in schools. By 2005, the percentage of women aged 35 to 44 with just one child was nearly 80% in large cities like Shanghai. The birth rate in smaller western provinces also dropped, with families having 2-3 children rather than 4-5.

“Only children in China are more likely to be born to educated parents who push them harder to succeed. Those who make it to college meet parental and societal expectations,” said Falbo. Yet if the only children aren’t accepted into college and join the military instead, they suffer more from anxiety and depression than their peers with siblings, who tend to be from working class communities. “The Chinese army prefers recruits from Red Class, who are rural and working class,” said Falbo.

“The advantage the only child may have over a child with siblings in a college setting is reversed in the military setting, according to the data,” explained Falbo. She says that despite this finding, only children still have a chance to adjust to a military environment.

“China’s one-child policy [was] unique in the world and its effects are different from what we see in the U.S., where people have just one child for more personal reasons, such as divorce, rather than political reasons,” explained Falbo.

Falbo and graduate student Hooper conducted a meta-analysis, collecting 22 previous studies of China’s only children, which featured 23 research samples, and studied their results. Their overall analysis, “China’s Only Children and Psychopathology: A Quantitative Synthesis,” shows that China’s only children are more likely to have educated parents and, though they do receive more resources, attention and education, they are not coddled. Instead, they have high expectations and more pressures placed upon them by parents and society for educational and career success.

China’s Only Children and Psychopathy: A Quantitative Synthesis was published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

Allison SkerrettAllison Skerrett, associate professor in the Curriculum and Instruction department at The University of Texas at Austin College of Education, recently published a book for educators and researchers, Teaching Transnational Youth: Literacy and Education in a Changing World.

A Q&A with the language and literacy professor explores just who “transnational youth” are, how her interest in the topic developed, and how her book helps teachers and researchers understand the educational needs and gifts of a diverse population of students who straddle multiple cultures and lands.

What does the term “transnational youth” mean?

Transnational youth are young people who live across two or more countries—spending significant amounts of time in each (for instance, across a year) and maintaining deep ties to each of the places they live. Often they belong to families who are transnational, so their living “here and there” occurs as part of their families’ transnational lifestyle; but there are also youths who have their own transnational experiences independent of their families’ movements.

What specific needs does this book address?

Although literacy scholars have been investigating how transnational youths use reading, writing, and other literacy practices in outside-school contexts to sustain their lifestyles and identities, this book is the first to investigate educational practices that can promote transnational students’ learning in school.

The book offers approaches to literacy curriculum and instruction through which literacy educators can learn about their transnational students’ educational experiences, challenges, resources and academic needs and use what they learn to promote these students’ academic development. Importantly, the book describes how teaching with more awareness of transnationalism ultimately supports the academic development of all students in the classroom.

How did your interest in this topic develop?

I immigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean island of Dominica as an adolescent, and growing up on Dominica, my family was transnational in that my father worked in other countries, given the economic hardships on Dominica. He would be away for six months at a time before he was able to come home for a visit for two weeks. Thus I have a strong identity in relation to the phenomenon of transnationalism.

I was also an English teacher in the Boston Public Schools before entering doctoral studies, and I had students each year who were transnational. At the time I did not have the term, awareness, or professional knowledge that would have allowed me to understand these students’ lifestyles, resources, and educational needs, and be responsive in my curriculum and teaching. Later, as a teacher educator and researcher at UT Austin, I conducted research in an Austin classroom that included transnational students. I began to focus on transnational students’ educational experiences and conceptualize curriculum and instructional approaches that can promote their academic development.

What are the findings about transnational youth in the classroom? What do they bring to the classroom that educators may be missing, for example?

Transnational students face a unique and severe challenge in literacy development because they must learn through different curriculum and instructional approaches of two or more nations. The research of migration scholars concludes that these challenges result in poor academic outcomes, academic disengagement, and dropout of transnational students from one or more of the schools they attend.

However, literacy research also paints a vibrant picture of the outside-school literate lives and capabilities of transnational youths. For instance, literacy scholarship portrays how transnational youths use reading, writing, and other literacy practices in outside-school contexts to sustain their transnational lifestyles and identities. As one example, transnational students often engage in digital literacies, using social media and the web, to maintain social relationships across the different countries in which they live. Literacy research also reveals how transnational youths develop special forms of intercultural and world knowledge, and expand their linguistic knowledge and language practices, through participating in transnational life.


Dr. Skerrett recently gave two lectures based in her book at the University of California Berkeley. She will be presenting on her book at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Minneapolis in November and at the Literacy Research Association’s Annual Conference in Carlsbad, CA., in December. Dr. Skerrett is currently teaching from her book in a course titled “Teaching Secondary English and Reading” at the University of Texas at Austin this fall. She has received two university research awards to conduct additional research in spring 2016 in a high school English classroom that includes transnational students.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Dr. Sherry Field was awarded the Dr. Truman L. Kelley Award for Scholarship Excellence by Kappa Delta Pi. The award is one of three Founders Awards that pay tribute to the visions of the organization’s founding members and honor stellar exemplars of those visions.

Read the story and view a video in which Field discusses her research.

Kinesiology and Health Education Doctoral Program Ranks 2nd in the Nation

The National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK) announced that The University of Texas at Austin’s doctoral program in Kinesiology and Health Education (KHE) ranks second in the nation.

Says KHE Professor and Department Chair John Bartholomew, “The NAK rankings are based on indicators of faculty productivity, including extramural funding, publications and editorships; along with student productivity, including publications and placements. As such, the steady rise in rankings is a wonderful reflection of the work of our entire department –staff, students, and faculty. I could not be more proud of their achievement.”

Read the story on our website to find out more.

Department Chair Wins Massey Award

Cinthia Salinas, associate professor and new chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin was named this year’s recipient of the Elizabeth Shatto Massey Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. The Massey Award recognizes a “teacher of teachers,” one who inspires and prepares future elementary and secondary school teachers, and includes a $12,000 gift.

Salinas works with future elementary and secondary social studies teachers as they enter increasingly linguistically and culturally diverse 21st-century classrooms.

Follow the link for the full story and more about the Massey Award.