Clinical-School Psychology Grad Student Lands Equity Fellowship

By: Leslie M. Booren

Meredith Dentes Powers, a Clinical-School Psychology Ph.D. student, joins the inaugural cohort of the Start with Equity Fellows, a novel program to prepare the next generation of changemakers in early childhood policy and research.

Meredith Dentes Powers, a doctoral student in the Clinical-School Psychology program at the Curry School of Education and Human Development and a Youth-Nex graduate student, has been awarded a fellowship through the Children’s Equity Project (CEP). The Start with Equity Fellowship is a new one-year program hosted by Arizona State University to prepare the next generation of early childhood policymakers and researchers. the course of this program, Powers will conduct, review, and translate cutting-edge equity research in early childhood education (0-10 years of age). She will also have the opportunity to participate in a summer policy internship and attend regular convenings supporting her professional development.

“It is an honor to be a part of this first cohort of fellows,” said Powers. “As a student in a clinically-focused program, it is a privilege to gain access to policy-oriented training while exploring the practical implications of my doctoral research.”

As part of the fellowship, Powers will receive mentorship outside UVA from Shantel Meek from Arizona State University and Rosemarie Allen with the Center for Equity and Excellence.

“I am particularly looking forward to learning from my fellowship mentors,” said Powers. “It is so exciting to have the opportunity to collaborate with two leaders in the field who have been at the forefront championing federal and state policy change.”

Powers’s current work aims to make a positive impact on critical societal issues including reducing discipline disproportionality by improving equity and fairness in early childhood and elementary school classrooms.

“A primary goal of the Children’s Equity Project is to address harsh discipline and its disproportionate application,” explained Powers. “From a prevention science perspective, the best way to address these inequities is to support teachers in becoming more culturally responsive and educating them about their own implicit biases.”

Powers said that when student engagement and teacher self-awareness increase, we often see a decrease in exclusionary discipline referrals.

Powers will also work with two UVA faculty mentors at the Curry School of Education and Human Development: Catherine Bradshaw, a professor and senior associate dean for research and faculty development, and Jessika Bottiani, an assistant research professor. Powers’s research explores how teachers’ cultural responsivity can address power-based differences between students and teachers to promote equitable instruction and enhance the classroom experiences of Black and Latinx students.

“So far in our research, we are finding that students’ perceptions of having positive, respectful, and clear communication are linked to teachers’ use of culturally responsive practices in upper elementary and secondary grade-level classrooms,” said Powers. “We are interested in better understanding these associations in early childhood.”

Powers explained that a key objective during this fellowship will be determining how we can train neutral outside observers to accurately measure teachers’ cultural responsiveness in early childhood classrooms.

“We are grateful for the support of fellowship programs like the Start with Equity Fellowship,” said Bottiani. “This program centers equity research training for the next generation of scholars which allows students like Meredith to utilize skills to translate research to policymakers and advance needed reforms to ensure racial equity in early childhood discipline practices.”

Powers joins an inaugural group of five scholars from top universities across the country, including Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington.

Prior to UVA, Powers worked as a public school special education teacher and was named a Teacher of Promise by the Maryland State Department of Education. She received a combined B.S./M.Ed. in Special Education with a minor in Human Development from University of Maryland, College Park in 2015.

Youth-Nex was founded in 2009 to expand and apply the science of positive youth development to address fundamental challenges facing societies around the world. Through science and community partnerships, Youth-Nex enhances the strengths of children and adolescents and prevents developmental risk. Our vision is that our nation’s youth - a rich, often untapped resource - may flourish.