Impact students far beyond the classroom

Engaging the whole student and the whole community

Impact students far beyond the classroom

Maria Reina Santiago loves the opportunities that school psychology gives her to shape students while also shaping their educational and family environments.

Maria Reina Santiago

As the daughter of a school principal, Maria Reina Santiago grew up with an unusual perspective on education, getting a behind-the-scenes view, and falling in love with that world. “I love school as an organization and as part of a community,” she explains. “I believe that schools are not just there to academically educate students, but they're influencing the life of students in so many ways.” Although she didn’t want to be a teacher herself, she knew she wanted to work in education, supporting students, teachers, and administrators.

School psychology proved to be the perfect solution for Santiago, giving her the opportunity to support schools and the development of students on a broader level. As a school psychologist, she is able to work directly with students, implementing academic, behavioral, social, and emotional interventions. But she is also able to support the adults influencing the students’ lives, like the parents, administration and the school district. “We have the opportunity of honestly creating collaboration between school members, with the community, and with the parents.”

“Working with the teachers, working with the administrators, helping the team, thinking about what would work in their environment, how can we move towards the outcomes that we want—that really inspires me.”

 

Maria Reina Santiago
Headshot of Maria Santiago

Santiago is a doctoral student in the school psychology program. She completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Puerto Rico’s main campus, Río Piedras. At Río Piedras, she became familiar with UMass, as there were several graduates among the professors at her university, including her mentor, the director of research at the campus’s psychological research clinic. The more she learned about UMass, the more she saw it would be ideal for her graduate education.

As Santiago explains, school psychology is a small field in Puerto Rico and there are not many resources for public education. Through system-level consultation, schools learn how to use their resources more efficiently to implement prevention programs and other initiatives. Santiago was drawn to UMass because the program is “very strong in consultation and system level experiences, as well as supporting schools in implementing universal prevention programs or mental health promotion programs.”

Santiago is currently gathering data for her dissertation. In her research, she is investigating how culturally responsive classroom management practices, as well as teacher expectations, can change the racial disproportionality in school discipline. “Similar to the academic gap and many gaps that we see in our school system, students of color, particularly African American students, Latino/Hispanic students, Native Americans, and students with disabilities, are disproportionately suspended and expelled from our school systems.”

In the fall, Santiago will begin a school psychology internship in the Santa Barbara, CA, County Schools. After completing her degree, she plans to go back to Puerto Rico to work in the educational system or with the university.

With five years of graduate work under her belt, Santiago is still inspired by the same things that drew her to school psychology. She enjoys the time she is able to spend with kids, “helping shape them into productive members of society or just human beings, whole human beings.” Equally, she loves the impact she can have on the system. “Working with the teachers, working with the administrators, helping the team, thinking about what would work in their environment, how can we move towards the outcomes that we want—that really inspires me.”

Santiago recommends that students considering the school psychology doctoral program should first work or volunteer in schools, to get exposure to the school environment, see how professionals manage the challenges, and to identify the areas they want to study and improve through their research. Her advice for students navigating the rigorous doctoral program is to focus on the wealth of learning.  “Our program is very intense the first few years because we have a lot of classes each semester,” she notes. “Don't fixate on the grades… go into every class and every project trying to learn the most from it.” She might suggest they blow off steam in her favorite way—watching a lot of stand-up comedy—a perfect way to counterbalance the intensity of graduate work and the challenges of the field.