Posted on March 25, 2022 by


Three professors in the Department of Educational Psychology have been awarded Article of the Year by School Psychology Training and Pedagogy (SPTP) for their paper titled “Social justice training in school psychology through a university-school service learning partnership.” Associate Professor Felicia Castro-Villarreal, Professor Jeremy Sullivan, and Associate Professor Victor Villarreal were recognized at an award ceremony on February 14. According to the journal’s website, the award is given in recognition of the article’s focus on training practices, critical thinking, systemic issues, and applicability to other professionals.

“This is something that has always been near and dear to my heart,” said Castro-Villarreal, the lead author and researcher. “I’ve always wanted to be able to provide and inject support where it’s needed.”

For the last twelve years, she and her colleagues have been identifying schools that need additional support. This redistribution of opportunities, she says, enhances equality for these communities by connecting teachers and students with resources the communities wouldn’t normally have.

Over the years, their process has become increasingly streamlined, such that the team felt they should share their methods with other professionals so that they too can work to change student outcomes in their own communities.

“What [this article] really provides is a model,” Castro-Villarreal said, “an exemplar for how to refine graduate student experiences and also improve outcomes for students and teachers in the schools.”

The article comes at an opportune time. Just like teachers and other educators, school psychologists have faced many challenges in recent years, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Castro-Villarreal has seen the behavioral and mental health concerns of the students she works with become more frequent and more severe. Pre-existing academic gaps based on ethnicity and income have also widened during the pandemic. This, she says, is due to communities having even fewer opportunities and resources.

Fortunately, the authors are seeing improvements in students and teachers. She and her team have been able to improve mental health outcomes, bolster socioemotional and academic skills, and improve behaviors such as attention and classroom engagement. The team also coaches and trains teachers on interventions and strategies that they can use to solve both immediate problems and to address future ones.

“They’re growing from a professional development standpoint and we’re developing their skillsets,” Castro-Villarreal said.

The 18 graduate students she’s currently working with have also benefited from the project, she says. By working in these settings and facing such complications, Castro-Villarreal says her grad students are receiving invaluable real-life training, which will prepare them to manage similar situations as professionals.

“That’s the nice thing about our consultation-problem solving model,” she said, “outcomes are on so many different fronts and we’re seeing benefits and improvements across all these different parties.”

Castro-Villarreal says she was shocked and humbled to learn they’d won article of the year, but also grateful that others were recognizing the importance of their work.

“I’m glad they really did see what we were doing and how we were affecting change for so many students and so many communities,” she said.

The team’s next goal is narrowing in on the most useful interventions to combat the various mental health and behavioral concerns, as well as those academic gaps they’re still seeing. From there, they hope to publish further, more detailed results about the effectiveness of their work for others to learn from.

For more information on SPTP and the article of the year award, visit  

- Christopher Reichert