June 17, 2021

Personal experience guides research

MEd child and school psychology students intern with Manitoba First Nations communities

For a group of child psychology graduate students, interning with schools serving Manitoba First Nations communities has been taken to a very personal level.

The students had the opportunity to hone their skills working directly with Indigenous students as part of the Werklund School of Education’s Master of Education School and Applied Child Psychology program, in partnership with the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc. (MFNERC).Their work included conducting research into how First Nations communities can build capacity in delivering school psychology services.

To be eligible for this internship program, the students themselves had to be of Indigenous heritage.

Dr. Meadow Schroeder, Werklund associate professor and academic co-ordinator for the internship program. Courtesy Meadow Schroeder.

Meadow Schroeder, Werklund associate professor and academic co-ordinator for the internship program.

Courtesy Meadow Schroeder

“Traditionally, school psychology has been Eurocentric in its approach and has viewed people from other cultures and minority groups from this lens,” says Dr. Meadow Schroeder, MSc’05, PhD’10, a Werklund associate professor and academic co-ordinator for the internship program. “When it comes to Indigenous people, school psychologists tend to use culturally inappropriate testing approaches and instruments that overly identify them as needing special education services.”

Personal experience meets research

For the research component, students are writing “autoethnographies,” a form of research that incorporates self-reflection and personal experience. The MFNERC will get a final report reflecting the challenges and struggles the students identify in their autoethnographies, along with suggestions for change, explains Schroeder.

Mitacs, a not-for-profit well-known for supporting business development and education, is providing funding for the research. It’s in the process of developing “an Indigenous strategy to support not only … students, but also Indigenous communities and business,” says Brent Wennekes, director of business development. “This was a rather unique proposal. It is an emerging area for Mitacs and for research in general. It’s a different approach, meeting a practical and important challenge.”

The MEd students were funded under the Mitacs Accelerate program, with matching support from MFNERC, he adds.

Dr. Elisa Lacerda-Vandenborn, cohort co-supervisor.

Elisa Lacerda-Vandenborn, cohort co-supervisor.

The autoethnographies are a vital aspect of the students’ internship with the Manitoba communities, says Werklund instructor Dr. Elisa Lacerda-Vandenborn, PhD, the cohort’s co-supervisor.

“[The] idea of having autoethnographies where students are at the centre of the research enacts the importance of their voices and how much we — as Western practitioners and scholars — have to learn from them,” she says.

Building capacity for school and child psychology

There is a need to build capacity in school and child psychology in First Nations communities, with Schroeder noting a recent paper in Canadian Psychology identified only 12 registered psychologists of Indigenous background in all of Canada.

MEd student Charity Sanderson, who grew up in the Fisher River Cree Nation on Lake Winnipeg, was assigned to schools in the Prairie Rose School Division in southern Manitoba.

“The biggest surprises came from working in the field. I've had such strange or surprising things occur. It's never a dull moment,” she says of the challenges faced working with young people. “I have helped so many children, the school division and other invested stakeholders (parents, etc.). I love giving a voice to others.”

Sanderson says the research aspect is vital, “because so often Indigenous people are looked down on or thought of in a certain way. However, it just isn’t the truth. Additionally, because of the pandemic, mental health has been at the forefront and people are realizing it is something to be considered. People do not like being isolated or cut off from others … nobody realized that this is how some Indigenous people have been feeling for years.”

Increasing capacity for Indigenous school psychologists was identified as a need in 2016, says Derek Courchene, MFNERC’s program co-ordinator for graduate studies.

“It is an area that has been underserved,” he says. “The intention is to better serve First Nations children and communities … the quality of service is going to increase with stability, dependability and cultural relevance. The students being First Nations [themselves] are very familiar with the communities.”

Connecting to the Indigenous Strategy

Schroeder says the internship program and research connect to UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, ii’ taa’poh’to’p, as “an opportunity to honour Indigenous people’s ways of knowing and culture. This project is an opportunity to critically examine school psychology approaches with the intent to identify problems and identify possible solutions. Furthermore, the identification of problems and potential solutions come from the students who [see them through] the Indigenous lens.”

As for building capacity in an underserved area, the future looks bright for the students.

“I’d like to work as a school clinician with my people full-time,” says Sanderson, who not only has a job lined up after graduation, but is also considering adding medical courses to her skill set. “It is amazing when doctors and school clinicians work together for a child. Why not be both?”

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting, and being. Walking parallel paths together, “in a good way,” UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.

For more information about Mitacs funding and grants, visit UCalgary’s Conduct Research website.