Research in Brief: Equitable, Culturally Responsive & Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Practice

By: Aloïse Phelps


  • This Research in Brief blog is part of the School Mental Health series highlighting work and resources for mental health professionals.
  • This brief originated from the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health (VPSMH) project, which partners with VA school divisions and institutions of higher education to expand support for school mental health services.
  • This brief summarizes a research article situating equity in mindfulness practice within trauma-informed principles (i.e., safety, trust/transparency, & collaboration/mutuality) in the classroom.
Source: Canva

With the increase in research supporting the use of mindfulness in schools, educators have started implementing mindfulness interventions within their classrooms. However, limited research has investigated the intersection of mindfulness and trauma-informed care. As a result, teachers are implementing practices without centering equity and racial justice. Without recognizing the root cause of students’ distress, the authors argue educators can unintentionally inflict harm. This article highlights strategies for incorporating mindfulness into middle school classrooms in affirming, culturally-responsive, and trauma-informed ways. Specifically, the authors argue for situating equity in mindfulness practice within trauma-informed principles (i.e., safety, trust/transparency, & collaboration/mutuality) in the classroom.


  • School mental health professionals are in a unique position to help re-center the practice of mindfulness in the classroom.
  • In educating staff about the importance of culturally responsive practices, SMHPs are able to prevent harm through mindfulness.
  • Additionally, SMHPs are equipped to train school staff on improved practices that can be implemented in the classroom, which can create a more equitable environment for students.

Equity Considerations

  • Goal of shifting to trauma-informed, equitable, and culturally responsive approach is to allow students a safe space to process, examine, and heal.
  • SMHPs must use an intersectional approach when considering cultural identities.

Practitioner Tips

  • Invite students to tap into what makes them feel safe as a means of affirming and validating their experiences. Create a toolbox of these strategies with students that they can use when feeling overwhelmed.
  • Leveraging culture, by naming and engaging practices of finding peace used in a variety of cultures, can build trustworthiness and transparency into the practice of mindfulness.
  • Allowing students to opt-in (instead of opt-out) provides an opportunity to develop skills in autonomy and engage in mindfulness at a level they are comfortable with.
  • Provide students with the opportunity to collaborate and offer feedback on mindfulness activities and practices. This allows students to draw on their own cultural knowledge and creates a mutual effort to understand and practice mindfulness together. School mental health providers can encourage teachers to listen to the feedback with an open mind.  


Duane, A., Casimir, A. E., Mims, L. C., Kaler-Jones, C., & Simmons, D. (2021). Beyond deep breathing: A new vision for equitable, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed mindfulness practice. Middle School Journal, 52(3), 4-14.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Aloïse Phelps is a graduate student in the Counselor Education program at the University of Virginia, pursuing the School Mental Health emphasis offered to trainees through the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health. Trainees in this emphasis complete additional coursework and field experience requirements that prepare them to take on leadership roles in addressing the mental health needs of students in K-12 schools.

Refugee Youth Voices: Journey from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan

By: Gigi, recent college graduate with Political Science degree

This is the second post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.


  • This post is part of the Refugee Youth Voices blog series in partnership with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition.
  • Students from R_PEACE are sharing their experiences from having a refugee background and now being in the United States.
  • Gigi talks about her life in Afghanistan before her family had to relocate to Kyrgyzstan.
Source: Jennifer Mann

My name is Gigi, and I’m originally from Afghanistan. My family and I left our home country in 2007 when I was 8 years old. We temporarily relocated to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan before moving to the USA in 2014. The motivation behind sharing my experience is to shed light on the fact that people like me do not come to the USA solely for a better life; it is primarily for our safety, as our lives were in great danger. I hope to reach a diverse audience because I want to be a voice for others facing similar challenges.

My Homeland of Afghanistan

Now, let me transport you to life in Afghanistan.

Life in Afghanistan was beautiful. I have beautiful memories of our family gatherings and the warmth of our culture.

Let me share a specific example: my grandparents’ houses. They had two houses, one in the city and the other in a village. Because my grandfather was a farmer, both houses had spacious yards and extensive gardens. They cultivated a variety of flowers, vegetables, and fruits. My mother has ten siblings, and seven of them were married at that time, with kids our age. When we visited our grandparents’ houses, which was very often, we had the most wonderful and unforgettable times of our lives. Now that I think about it, it was like being in paradise—the most beautiful houses with enchanting gardens that filled the air with fragrant aromas, and kids playing around while the adults had heartwarming conversations together.

However, life also presented us with overwhelming challenges. My father, a successful currency exchange businessman, often found himself in the crosshairs of dangerous mafia groups. They would come to our house demanding money, and at times, they would even ask for my sisters, me or our girl cousins. However, my father never allowed them even a glimpse of us. We were young but fully aware of the gravity of these situations, as these groups were usually armed.

Going to school was another test. My father would instruct my sister and I to walk separately, one of us ahead of the other, so that if one was kidnapped, the other could escape. Those words are engraved in my memory forever.

Journey of Survival in Kyrgyzstan

Because Afghanistan was so dangerous for us, we had to flee our country to stay safe. Leaving behind everything we had in our homeland, we began on a journey of survival in Kyrgyzstan. We had to adapt to a new language, learn a different culture, and integrate into a society that was not our own. Challenges, like extremely cold winter nights and not having enough food, tested how tough we were.

Slowly but surely, we overcame these obstacles. We became proficient in Russian and Kyrgyz, excelled in school, and achieved numerous awards. During this time, my father’s business in Kyrgyzstan also began to flourish.

However, despite our achievements, we faced limitations in Kyrgyzstan because we were not native Kyrgyz or Russian. This eventually led us to make the decision to move to the United States when our case was accepted by the USCIS.

What I Learned

Our time in Kyrgyzstan significantly shaped my worldview. It showed me how important it is:

  • To be able to adjust to changes,
  • Keep going even when things are tough, and
  • To never give up, no matter the challenges we face.

My parents taught us that no matter where life takes you, with determination and hard work, you can overcome the most overwhelming challenges.

Stay tuned to this Refugee Youth Voices blog series to read more from Gigi on her experience in moving to the USA and how she is thriving!

Please note that pseudonyms are being used to protect the student writers and their family’s safety as part of this Refugee Youth Voices blog series.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Gigi is part of a group of college students from refugee-backgrounds that formed a coalition called R_PEACE (Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence). R_PEACE creates content by using a critical literacy perspective, telling their counter-stories regarding access and entry into college, and disseminating information. The goal is to increase access to college for other refugees via three avenues: live speaking events in non-profit organizations serving refugees, a multilingual brochure, and through social media.

Supporting Emerging Artists & Youth Development Globally

By: Joyce Chow


  • March is Youth Art Month and I am revisiting a non-profit, I AM Art House, that I founded.
  • In this blog, I emphasize why art education is important and how virtual art classes may be an option to get young people involved in the arts.
  • I share some resources and strategies for getting young people involved in the arts that all youth-serving adults should consider.
Source: Joyce Chow

In 2019, I founded a non-profit, called I AM Art House, that supports emerging artists and youth development globally. Since March is Youth Art Month, I wanted to share more about why using art as a tool for empowerment is important for young people.

I AM Art House

One of the goals of this non-profit, and many other art-based organizations, is to organize exhibitions, workshops, and fundraisers to showcase art and raise awareness of the importance of art education. We host art classes for students of all ages and international exhibitions.

Also, our fellowship program is designed to guide recent university graduates (regardless their chosen field of study in university) as they navigate the uncertain waters of starting and sustaining their own art businesses. I AM Art House has hosted several international virtual art exhibitions with several young and emerging artists.

Art Education

If you are a parent and your kid may be interested in art, there are many avenues that provide opportunities to explore art. If you don’t have a local art scene in your community, I’d encourage you to look at online options!

I have taught virtual art classes, and try to personalize them as much as possible. Each week there is a “teaching assistant” who gets to choose what we draw. During a session, one of my students chose a cute milkshake. We usually use reference photos we look through together via Google but sometimes the kids have their parents send me photographs they would like us to use.

Teaching virtual art classes to kids has been such a blessing to the youth and to me. See this session as an example. My students teach me so much, and they are my pride and joy!

Get Youth Involved in Art

Throughout my blog I have talked about all the different mediums of art from design to culinary. I think art can be a tool for empowering youth to be creative, and youth-serving adults should provide opportunities for exposure and growth in all the arts.

Here are some art-based resources or tools that may be of interest to use with youth:

  • Check out some Youtube channels for fun tutorials, like the Art for Kids Hub.
  • Consider some free or low-priced sites that offer art classes online, like Art Projects for Kids.
  • There are also some organizations that have regular and informational newsletters on opportunities and ideas! Consider learning more about Kids & Art, the Arts Fund, and Arts Ignite
  • I also suggest looking into your local schools, libraries, and community centers for opportunities. Consider going to live music and finding other ways to increase exposure to the arts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: After earning a master in the History of Design at Oxford University and a Graduate Diploma in Art and Design from the Royal College of Art in London, I returned to my alma mater the University of Virginia to pursue a M.Ed. in Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science and to serve as a University Advancement Ambassador. I founded I AM Art House back in 2019 to support youth development initiatives and emerging artists globally. I am passionate about teaching art, music, and sports classes to kids.

Youth-Nex 2024 Speaker Bureau

Source: Youth-Nex

Youth-Nex is dedicated a) to providing a venue for scholars and practitioners whose work is furthering the goal of racial justice, b) to supporting developmental science that is not only anti-racist but is in the service of dismantling white supremacy, and c) to amplifying the voices and lived experiences of adolescents who have been marginalized.

Interested in having one of our scholars provide a talk or workshop to your organization in 2024-25? Start your planning now with our 2024 Speaker Bureau!

In alphabetical order, learn more below about Dr.s Tish Jennings, Wintre Foxworth Johnson, Seanna Leath, Channing Mathews, Irène​ Mathieu, Amanda Nguyen, Stefanie Sequeira, Ashlee Sjogren, Lora Henderson Smith, Julia Taylor, and Katy Zeanah.

Patricia (Tish) Jennings, M.Ed., Ph.D.

Professor Jennings offers powerful workshops, captivating keynote addresses, and impactful webinars that tackle the pressing issues our schools confront today. Resilience, the ability to adapt to challenging situations without lasting harm, is now more crucial than ever for our students and educators. Teaching is fundamentally an emotional endeavor, with the social and emotional dynamics in the classroom playing a pivotal role in enhancing student learning and promoting positive behavior. Drawing on research from neuroscience, psychology, and education, Professor Jennings offers valuable insights into how mindfulness and compassion-based techniques, combined with instruction in emotional skills, can help educators manage the demands of the classroom, create a supportive learning environment, and rejuvenate the teaching and learning process. These adult skills can also be applied to support students facing trauma and adversity. In addition, Professor Jennings brings expertise in introducing mindful awareness and compassion practices to children and adolescents in developmentally appropriate ways, backed by evidence-based approaches.

Wintre Foxworth Johnson, Ph.D.

Wintre Foxworth Johnson, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education. Prior to joining the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia, Johnson served as a Teacher Leadership Coach (PreK-8) with the equity-focused policy and practice non-profit organization Teach Plus. She has extensive experience in teacher training and professional development, in particular, supporting educators in considering ways to translate culturally responsive and sustaining theories to practice in elementary school contexts; encouraging educators to excavate implicit biases, anti-Blackness, and other oppressive ideologies that inform their pedagogy; generating action-oriented dialogue that addresses the structural inequities that deleteriously affect marginalized students’ schooling experiences; and training preservice and inservice teachers to consider and enact pedagogical possibilities at the intersection of language arts and history instruction. One of her recent articles, published in the peer-reviewed journal Language Arts, is entitled “To Dream, to Fly, and to Be: Depictions of Black Livingness in Contemporary African American Children’s Literature”. Dr. Johnson earned her Ph.D. in Reading/Writing/Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

Dr. Seanna Leath

Dr. Seanna (Shawna) Leath (Leeth) is an assistant professor in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at Washington University in St. Louis. She directs the Fostering Healthy Identities and Resilience (FHIRE) Lab, which focuses on the holistic development and wellbeing of Black girls and women within their families, schools, and communities. Her research expertise includes identity development, gendered racial bias and discrimination, and cultural socialization processes in Black families. She has hosted workshops on Black women’s health and wellness, racial and gender inequities in higher education, and family-school partnerships for Black youth.

Dr. Channing Mathews (she/her/hers)

Ethnic-racial identity (i.e., the process and meaning associated with the role of ethnicity and race in one’s life) and critical consciousness (i.e., one’s awareness of social inequality and the tools, beliefs, and actions used to challenge inequity) are two processes that are salient in the development of Black and Latinx youth. Though both processes have demonstrated consistently positive outcomes across academic, socioemotional, and sociopolitical domains, little work examines how these two processes interact for these youth over time. I argue that we cannot fully understand the development of youth of color without investigating where ethnic-racial identity and critical consciousness processes intersect. Using my Integrated Model of Ethnic-Racial Identity and Critical Consciousness Development (Mathews et al., 2020), I examine how youth of color draw upon this process to find success and thriving within and beyond STEM contexts, with particular attention how ethnic-racial identity and critical consciousness promote activism throughout adolescence and adulthood. 

Irène​ P. Mathieu, MD, MPH (she/her/hers)

Dr. Irène Mathieu is a general pediatrician with experience in community-engaged research in both U.S. and international settings. She is currently the principal investigator of the Wellness And Youth Social action (WAYS) Lab at the University of Virginia, where she leads a team of adult and youth researchers focused on understanding and addressing the adolescent mental health crisis. Dr. Mathieu uses youth participatory action research (YPAR) as a core approach to her work. She is also an award-winning author of multiple poetry books and has experience teaching poetry to adolescents and adults. She has particular expertise in the use of literature to teach learners about health disparities and social determinants of health.

Dr. Amanda Nguyen

Dr. Amanda Nguyen is a Guerrant Global Health Equity Professor and Associate Professor at the University of Virginia (UVA). Her work focuses on design, implementation, and evaluation of mental health and psychosocial support interventions in global and rural settings. She regularly leads complex, community-engaged research partnerships and has particular expertise conducting mental health research in humanitarian and emergency settings. She would be delighted to speak on topics related to child protection and mental health in humanitarian response, global and rural mental health, community-engaged research, implementation science, and international program evaluation.

Stefanie L Sequeira, PhD (she/her)

Stefanie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at UVA. Stefanie’s training is in clinical and development psychology, and she specializes in the study and treatment of affective psychopathology (e.g., anxiety, depression) in childhood and adolescence. Stefanie integrates multiple methods, including functional magnetic resonance imaging and ecological momentary assessment, to examine social threat and reward processes (e.g., neural responses to peer rejection or acceptance; self-reported social anhedonia) in adolescents with or at risk for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. She would be excited to speak on topics related to adolescent mental health, adolescent peer experiences and social media, or developmental affective neuroscience. 

Dr. Ashlee Sjogren

Ashlee Sjogren is a research assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Foundations and Policy and a faculty affiliate of Youth-Nex. Her research interests focus on equitable education and student engagement in out-of-school contexts. She regularly speaks on a variety of topics such as adolescent development, Out-of-school time systems, student motivation, and student voice. As an educational psychologist, she often brings a social context lens to understanding questions of equity, access, and motivation in our education systems. If these topics interest you, please reach out to have her join as a speaker.

Dr. Lora Henderson Smith, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)

Dr. Lora Henderson Smith is an expert in school mental health and culturally responsive practices. She is available to provide expertise on supporting student mental health in schools. In particular, she is passionate about supporting students’ mental health needs as they return to school after mental-health related Emergency Department visits and hospitalizations. She also conducts community-based research in collaboration with Indigenous community partners and she is available to discuss this line of research and partnership.

Julia V. Taylor, Ph.D.

Julia V. Taylor, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Counselor Education. Prior to academia, Julia worked as a school counselor and dean of student services in a variety of K-12 settings. During this time she supervised school counselors-in-training, developed district-wide counseling curricula, served on school and district-level teams, and authored several counseling-related books. She has delivered hundreds of presentations at the local, state, and national level to K-12 educators and currently speaks about 1) mental health literacy, 2) girls’ leadership development, 3) improving school counselors’ use of data, and 4) designing, implementing, and evaluating effective small group counseling services.

Dr. Katy Zeanah (she/her), PhD, LCP, NCSP

Katy is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Licensed Clinical Psychologist who has over 15 years of experience working in K-12 schools and mental health clinics. She has experience presenting to schools, community agencies, as well as local and national conferences.

As a certified trainer for the National Association of School Psychologists’ school crisis prevention and intervention training curriculum: PREPaRE, she helps schools develop crisis teams and safety plans that address mental health, physical health, and safety risk within the context of the school culture.

In addition, Katy is committed to increasing the availability of high-quality mental health services for students in school, particularly students who are at risk for mental health concerns and those who face barriers to receiving care. Her research has focused on the training and supervision of school-based mental health professionals, school-based mental health, and social justice in educational settings.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Research in Brief: Teaching Anti-Racist Counseling Theories

By: Natoya Hill Haskins


  • The Research in Brief blogs summarize research articles recently published in academic journals, and often align with other initiatives, such as February being Black History Month.
  • In this publication, the authors provide decolonizing therapeutic strategies and counselor educator recommendations.
  • Summarized in this blog, I describe an intersectional approach of Black liberation theology and narrative therapy that specifically addresses the cultural and spiritual needs of Black clients.
Source: Canva

This article focuses on how counselor educators can support counseling trainees as they serve Black clients who are impacted by oppressive religious experiences. Theories such as Black liberation theology (BLT) may offer a supplemental process to support students in effectively meeting the needs of Black clients.

Black Liberation Theory

BLT, an anti-racist theory used to understand the Black experience and its hegemonic foundations, can serve as a guide to understand Black cultural narratives, oppression, and liberation mechanisms. Unfortunately, these historical understandings regarding the Black community have been relegated to seminaries or biblical perspectives, even though it has implications for mental health practice. It is paramount that counselor educators go beyond traditional theories to include approaches such as BLT, which can expand social constructivist perspectives such as applications of narrative therapy, and potentially improve the efficacy of counseling with diverse, spiritual clients.

Narrative counselors who practice from a BLT lens use narratives to help Black clients cultivate agency. BLT and narrative approaches articulate the need for connection and empowerment through the dismantling of oppressive historical, spiritual, and social contexts.

Teaching Black Liberation Narrative Therapy (BLNT)

The goal of this process is threefold: (a) to help Black clients examine the debilitating narratives and dominant discourses that have hindered their experiences, (b) to help Black clients explore their personal dialogue that serve to confirm or disconfirm these narratives, and, (c) to identify ways they can validate self and develop a narrative that is not hindered by oppressive dominant theological discourse. Aspects of BLNT can be infused into theories, group counseling, multicultural, transpersonal, as well as techniques courses using one or more of these five processes.

  • Validating Blackness: Anti-Blackness continues to impact the experiences of Black clients. To align with the BLNT approach, educators actively teach trainees how to minimize power within the relationship by allowing the client to be the expert in their own story and by listening to their experiences related to the oppressive narratives with openness and empathy. In addition, the counselor educator can assist trainees learn how to share their own stories of liberation as it relates to dealing with the biblical and church doctrine.
  • Examining the Eschatology of the Present: The eschatological roots of the Black Church were grounded in understanding the finiteness of the human condition. Counselor educators can help the counselors in training focus on hope as it relates to liberation, where they help the client to examine present oppression as it relates to their current and future relationships, decisions, and interactions. During the learning process, the trainee can explore how justice cannot only occur with cosmological or apocalyptic expectations, as there is no need to accept oppression now. As such, the counselor educator can encourage the trainees to ask the client the following: “What do you believe about injustice?” and “What can you do to experience liberation or freedom now?”
  • Dismantling Oppressive Religious Structures: Dismantling oppressive religious structures can help strengthen the client’s sense of meaning regarding their story. As a result, the counselor educator will want to teach the trainee how to question the client about alternative accounts and experiences of their experience in their church community, “Are there times when you did feel liberated while communing with the Black Church and within the society?” Counselor educators can teach trainees about cultural messaging and how it can and has helped to maintain the current state in Black spiritual communities.
  • Creating New Values Towards Liberation: According to BLT, courage is necessary to circumvent socially constructed notions or stereotypes that the client may have related to feeling powerless. The counselor educator can teach trainees to help the client explore marginalizing social constructions related to being a member of the Black Church and the Black community, and the impacts on their mental health. To illuminate these areas, the counselor educator can have trainees ask the following questions: “When do you feel like you are oppressed related to church?” and “With whom do you feel oppressed?”
  • Creating Opportunities for Reconciliation: The counselor educator can describe how the trainee can specifically validate the Black client’s desire to advocate and to stand alongside them as they advocate in their communities. Counselor educators can share how trainees can help clients in counseling solidify the new narrative and reconciled identity that may include other Black individuals who have triumphed over marginalizing ideology.

Implications & Conclusions

By utilizing this integrative model, counselors and trainees have an operative framework through which they can provide therapy that empowers, uplifts, and validates Black clients. However, counselor educators may have limited training in Black liberation and how it can be used in clinical practice. Counselor educators need to help trainees focus on how the client makes meaning of their liberatory experience and planned steps for maintaining their growth. Additionally, it is important to consider the various religious beliefs of Black clients and how parts of this approach may be useful for different clients. Empirical studies are needed to examine the effectiveness of BLNT with clients and its clinical outcome.


Haskins, N. H., Harris, J. A., Parker, J., Nambiar, A., & Chin, P. (2023). Teaching anti-racist counseling theories: Black liberation narrative therapy. Counselor Education and Supervision, 00, 1–13.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: During her 20-year career in counseling and counselor education, Natoya Hill Haskins has been committed to equity and inclusion. Haskins developed the Social Justice and Diversity Research Fellows Program for graduate students, with the aim of addressing research training disparities for students of color who are interested in conducting equity and social justice research. In addition, she has created affinity group spaces for African American women in counselor education. Haskins has over 40 publications in the areas of womanist clinical applications and social justice competence in P-20 schools. Haskins is the 2022-2023 president of the Association of Counselor Education and Supervision. Prior to that, she served as the president of the Southern Association of Counselor Education and Supervision (2017-2018).

Refugee Youth Voices: Introducing the R_PEACE Coalition

By: Jennifer C. Mann

This is the first post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.


  • This post is introducing the Refugee Youth Voices blog series with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition.
  • I present information about the students from refugee backgrounds and the inequitable systems they face.
  • I introduce the work and impact of R_PEACE and set the stage for upcoming student-written blogs in this series. Additionally, I provide resources for learning more. 
Source: Jennifer Mann

I spent sixteen years as an educator, mostly to refugee- and immigrant-background students who recently arrived in the United States. I am currently a Research Scientist at Duke University, where I work on making education more accessible and more welcoming for such students.

Refugee Backgrounds & Inequitable Systems

Refugees relocate to escape violence, poverty, and extreme conditions. They also arrive in new countries hoping for educational opportunities. However, despite their interest in educational achievement, there are many reasons refugees face educational barriers.

First, the process of migration for refugees often involves emotional trauma and may result in post-traumatic stress disorder.1 Additionally, there are often gaps in children’s formal education before and during the resettlement process.2 Students with limited or interrupted formal education have had at least two fewer years of schooling than their peers and have varying levels of formal education.3

Furthermore, refugee-background students often face mixed reception by community and school personnel.4 Overall, there is evidence of a continued deficit perspective held by teachers and administrators towards refugee and immigrant students and a subsequent lack of access to rigorous learning opportunities.5

In response to the lack of rigorous learning, I wanted to provide refugee-background youth with opportunities for complex learning and critical engagement. One important research project I led was a social design-based experiment, which was conducted in an effort to bring about social transformation through a reconceptualization and reorganization of standard educational practices. Central to social design-based research is inviting participants to partner in taking action to help transform the inequitable systems which adversely impact their lives. In this social design-based study, I worked with a group of young adults from refugee backgrounds who wanted to increase college access for other refugee-background students.

They formed a coalition called R_PEACE (Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence). Through R_PEACE they traveled around to nonprofits who work with refugee- and immigrant-background students and shared some of their educational experiences and insights and offered their support. Additionally, R_PEACE spoke to over a hundred educators about how they can better support their students who are new to the country or new to the language.

The Coalition’s Work & Impact

The R_PEACE students have incredible insight into the unique complexities of being refugees. Driven by a motivation to help, they are able to:

  • Clearly communicate their own experiences.
  • Challenge others to consider how they can help craft better educational experiences for other refugee-background students.
  • Create better experiences and better futures for others.
  • Openly share their own difficult experiences.

It is my hope that we can all be open to hearing and learning from them. In the upcoming series blogs, Sue Mar, Gigi, and other students share profound insights that are relevant to us all as we seek to make the world a better place.

As educators, we can improve the world by making strides towards cultivating spaces of belonging. As researchers, we can seek out humanizing and participatory research approaches which allow the participants to partner with us in seeking solutions to the problems they face. As both an educator and a researcher, one of the most important actions I can take is listening to learn. It is my hope that we will each pause in our busy lives and listen to learn from the wisdom of others.

Resources for Learning More

In addition to listening to learn, we can read to learn. I’ve included some resources for those wanting to know more. Learn more about teaching refugees from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world’s leading refugee organization. Visit Harvard’s page on research, education, and action for refugees around the world for academic and creative resources. Finally, read an article I wrote about the importance of caring relationships and relevant and relatable curriculum.


1Tuliao et al., 2017; 2Daniel & Zybina, 2019; 3Hos, 2016; 4Roxas & Roy, 2012, p. 469; 5Alford, 2014; Daniel & Zybina, 2019; Lau, 2012

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Jennifer C. Mann is a Research Scientist at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. In 2023, she received her Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences from North Carolina State University. Dr. Mann spent sixteen years as an educator, teaching high school English, elementary and adult English as a Second Language (ESL), and undergraduate pre-service English and ESL education. Her research interests include refugee and immigrant education, culturally sustaining critical pedagogies, and the social-emotional well-being of marginalized students.

Round Up: National Mentoring Month 2024

By: Leslie M. Booren


  • January is National Mentoring Month and we are revisiting our archives from the last year.
  • Summarized are the news stories, blog posts and research articles published in the last 12 months, each advancing our understanding of effective mentoring.
  • Highlighted below are resources associated with youth mentoring, the various sources of mentoring, and adult professional mentoring.
Source: Canva

Researchers at Youth-Nex and the UVA School of Education and Human Development are contributing to a growing body of research on how and why effective mentoring works, as highlighted in this 2024 national mentoring month round-up.

Youth Mentoring

  • Addressing Youth Loneliness: Close youth mentoring relationships can improve mentees’ relationships with other people and their sense of loneliness. In this study, researchers evaluated the relationship between youth mentoring participation and peer social acceptance. Findings suggest that mentoring relationships are the most beneficial for mentees who have fewer relationships but do not necessarily feel lonely. Read Blog Post.
  • Young Women Leaders Program: The Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) is a community-based mentoring program that pairs undergraduate women with middle school girls. Olivia, a 19-year-old, participated in the program as a middle schooler mentee and now as a UVA undergraduate college mentor. In a Vlog, Olivia shares more about her experiences in YWLP, and some advice for adults and youth who may want to participate in mentoring programs. Watch Youth-Nex Vlog.
  • Caregivers & Natural Mentoring Relationships: A change that occurs during adolescence is the development of close relationships outside of the immediate family unit. This study examined pathways between Black adolescents’ attachment to their parents and the quantity of natural mentors, or other youth and adult relationships in their pre-existing social networks. These Youth-Nex researchers found that more secure parent-adolescent attachment predicted a greater quantity of natural mentoring relationships. Read Article.

Sources of Mentoring

  • Community-Based Mentoring: Youth today face challenges of loneliness and isolation, impacting mental health negatively. Community mentoring programs are one possible solution. In this post, a Youth-Nex & EHD graduate student share more about how mentoring programs should consider the limitations of one-on-one relationships and adopt a comprehensive approach to maximize their impact. Read Blog Post.
  • Informal Mentors & Academic Success: There is little research recognizing pathways through which schools promote human capital development – by fostering informal mentoring relationships between students and their teachers, counselors, and coaches. This study, conducted by a Youth-Nex researcher and colleagues, used longitudinal data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents. Findings suggest that informal mentoring supports students’ long-run academic success, especially for students of lower socioeconomic status. Read Article.
  • Social Support in Mentoring Relationships: Social support is associated with positive physical and psychological health outcomes for youth. This qualitative study examined the sources, forms, and functions of social support youth receive from natural mentoring relationships in their lives. Findings suggest that different types of adults had the capacity to provide different types of support, and their support differed based on the adult’s role with the youth. Read Article.

Adult Professional Mentoring

  • Telementoring: School-based mental health providers play an important role in supporting students, especially at a time when evidence suggests students have increasing needs. This year, a team of our researchers published an article about a telementoring model that is a low-cost, flexible way for school mental health professionals to access professional learning. The findings support the use of telementoring to improve school mental health professionals’ understanding and application of the evidence-based school counseling model. Read Article.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Leslie M. Booren is the Associate Director for Communications and Operations at Youth-Nex and the Youth-Nex blog editor. In this role, she manages operations, HR, events, communications and marketing for the center. Previously she has worked at the Center for Race and Public Education in the South (CRPES), EdPolicyWorks, and the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) in various roles from research faculty to managing director. She has a strong interest in community and youth development by bridging applied and research-based practices.

Mentoring Matters, Especially for Young Women

By: Olivia, 19-year-old


  • The Young Women Leaders Program (or YWLP) is a community-based mentoring program that pairs undergraduate women with middle school girls.
  • I participated in this program as a middle schooler mentee and now as an undergraduate college mentor.
  • In this video blog for National Mentoring Month, I share more about my experiences in YWLP, and some advice for adults and youth who may want to participate in mentoring programs.

My name is Olivia and I am a mentor in the Young Women Leaders Program (or YWLP). YWLP is a community-based mentoring program that pairs UVA undergraduate women with middle school girls from the Charlottesville area. I have participated in YWLP both as a mentee in middle school and now as an undergraduate mentor while I’m studying at UVA!

YWLP is unique because it combines one-on-one mentoring with group activities that address girls’ sense of self, scholastic achievement, body image, peer relationships, and healthy decision-making. I know firsthand how YWLP empowers middle school girls as leaders in their schools and communities!

Importance of Mentoring Programs

From my experience, I think that mentoring programs are important because it helps ground both youth and the adult mentors. Being a mentor allows us to reconnect with parts of ourselves that we may have forgotten or lost along the way. For example, giving yourself time to live in that childish energy and relate to young people can be important. When we get older, we forget to do that!

So by being a mentor, youth can remind you how to relax and have fun. But also for the youth, they have someone to help ground and guide them. Mentoring is important for both adults and young people!

My Advice for Adults

To the adults out there that are hesitant in joining a mentoring program, I say just get involved and just do it! Although you may be nervous in the beginning, you have to trust yourself that you are going in with the best intention. Trust that the youth will also go into a mentoring relationship to learn with you.

To ensure you have a positive experience, my advice before going into a mentoring relationship is to:

  • Reflect on yourself.
  • Ask yourself why you want to get involved.
  • Think about what you want to gain from this experience.
  • Consider what you have to offer.
  • Avoid being nervous!

Remember, just have fun! Mentoring is supposed to be an enjoyable experience; it can help you connect with others, and it doesn’t have to always be serious. It is OK to just spend time with youth just so they have a better day, and it doesn’t have to be that you are changing their life. You can learn a lot by just having fun!

This approach actually does exist today, when people discuss varied cultural backgrounds. People allow for differences in attitudes, traditions, foods, clothing, and practices, without trying to force their own views. It has been hard to allow for such debates in the political sphere since the discussion there seems to want to define the “uniquely best American way”. It’s time that the schools taught us again that we are all Americans, even if we have different views.

YWLP, and their big brother program the Men’s Leadership Project (MLP), are accepting mentors or bigs for their programs next year! YWLP is open to marginalized genders including anyone who identifies as a woman or girl, and non-binary and gender non-conforming people who are comfortable in a space that centers the experiences of women and girls. We encourage students from a variety of backgrounds and identities to apply to the Young Women Leaders Program! For more information about YWLP or to donate, please visit their website.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: My name is Olivia Thompson and I’m a second year at UVA majoring in Sociology and hoping to double major in Spanish. I’m from Louisa, VA. I grew up in a small town and moved around a lot. I plan to go to grad school in the future and hope to eventually become a licensed clinical social worker. I want to live a life based around service and use what I’ve learned from those who have guided me to give back to not only my community, but communities that exist outside of me.

Supporting Youth Loneliness & Social Isolation through Community-Based Mentoring

By: Westley Fallavollita


  • Youth today face challenges of loneliness and isolation, impacting mental health negatively. Reports from the U.S. Surgeon General emphasize changing ways of building relationships, leading to issues like depression and substance use.
  • Community mentoring programs are one possible solution, but challenges like trust issues and diverse backgrounds require a personalized approach. Inclusive training for mentors and activities promoting community engagement can help address these issues.
  • To maximize the impact, mentoring programs should consider the limitations of one-on-one relationships and adopt a comprehensive approach. This includes recognizing the importance of peer relationships during adolescence, integrating community activities, and providing evidence-based support to empower lonely and isolated youth.
Source: Canva

Loneliness and social isolation are big challenges facing youth today. The U.S. Surgeon General recently released reports on the importance of protecting youth mental health[1] and the epidemic of loneliness and isolation[2]. One common theme between these reports is that typical ways of connecting and building relationships are changing, and youth mental health is suffering as a result. This has important implications because youth loneliness and social isolation are associated with negative outcomes such as depression, substance use, and suicide attempts. For other youth, the desire for a sense of belonging and acceptance can lead to associating with delinquent peer groups or antisocial behaviors, leading to early and avoidable encounters with the juvenile justice system. There’s a growing interest in how community-based programs like youth mentoring can provide support. Researchers have suggested that community-based mentoring programs could be a good strategy to prevent youth loneliness and social isolation because of the focus on building strong mentor-mentee relationships[3]. However, loneliness and social isolation are complex and influenced by many individual factors among young people. A strong mentoring relationship alone may not be enough to fix loneliness and social isolation, but engaging in specific mentoring program practices and activities could help. Such approaches could also enhance community-based youth mentoring programs by making them more inclusive, and creating more opportunities for youth to build relationships with peers and become involved in their community. The following discussion will describe some of the challenges of close mentoring relationships alone and opportunities for specific mentoring program practices to support lonely and socially isolated youth.

While mentoring relationships have the potential to help prevent loneliness and social isolation from taking hold, there are limitations to how much a close mentoring relationship can help mentees who are particularly vulnerable or already experiencing these challenges. Youth who have been bullied by peers or experienced difficult relationships with adults may be uncomfortable forming a relationship with a mentor due to trust issues, fear of rejection, or low self-esteem. Mentors and mentees with dissimilar backgrounds, life experiences, and racial identities may encounter additional difficulties such as differences in perspectives on handling life challenges, communication styles, and social networks. Other youth whose feelings of loneliness derive from neurodivergence or other developmental differences might struggle with the social communication differences needed to form new connections, sensory sensitivities that make mentoring activities uncomfortable, or social anxiety that impacts their ability to engage in mentorship. For LGBTQ+ youth, fear of discrimination, absence of parental support, or mentor lack of understanding can contribute to difficulties achieving a safe and affirming mentor-mentee relationship. All these individual circumstances can contribute to feelings of loneliness and social isolation, so addressing these challenges requires a thoughtful and individualized approach. While mentors can not be trained to work with all possible intersections of youth identity, they can be trained to approach their mentoring relationships with cultural humility, openness, and a commitment to fostering safety and belonging.

Mentoring programs play a crucial role in preparing mentors to effectively engage with vulnerable youth. To support mentors in their efforts to engage with youth who are prone to loneliness and social isolation, community-based mentoring programs should focus on training mentors in inclusive and affirming practices. Cultural humility training is crucial for efforts to build trust and effective communication with mentees, and training in this area can help mentors address stereotypes, identify their implicit biases, and navigate microaggressions. Similarly, trauma-informed mentorship training can help mentors approach their mentees with sensitivity and understanding, creating feelings of safety and trust, and supporting appropriate responses to personal disclosures. Such toolkits can be found online, such as the trauma informed-mentoring toolkit offered by the OJJDP (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention)[4]. Mentoring programs can also support mentors through regular check-ins and the creation of support networks with other mentors. Regular meetings with program coordinators and other mentors in the program create the opportunity to share challenges, receive feedback, and enhance collective knowledge. While it is a challenge to prepare mentors for the many different ways youth may come to struggle with loneliness and social isolation, inclusive program design and support for mentors’ ongoing professional development will help mentors be sensitive to the unique needs of their mentee and tailor an individualized approach to creating a close relationship.

Another important factor to consider when employing mentoring to support lonely and socially isolated youth is the developmental shift towards same-aged peers that occurs during adolescence[5]. Beginning in late childhood and early adolescence, acceptance or rejection by peers, not adults, becomes central to feelings of belonging and self-esteem. Even with a close mentoring relationship, feelings of loneliness and social isolation will still exist if there are challenges with peer relationships. These feelings can be particularly pronounced for bullied or otherwise peer-rejected children, where a close mentoring relationship will not alleviate the negative effects of ongoing rejection by peers. Similarly, peer relationships can be disrupted by significant life transitions, such as entering a new school or relocating to a new home. Other youth face systemic barriers to peer relationships, such as poverty that contributes to less opportunities and out-of-school activities, or having a different identity in a highly homogenous community. Such structural challenges suggest the need for additional supports to help some mentees develop peer relationships. To support such lonely and socially isolated mentees, mentor-mentee relationships need to extend beyond the individual mentor-mentee pair, and build a network of peer and community connections.

Community-based mentoring programs can support peer relationships and community connectedness by integrating specific activities and approaches into their mentoring programs. Mentoring activities that involve community engagement and service-learning opportunities, such as volunteer work or participating in community events, can alleviate loneliness and social isolation by fostering a sense of purpose, connection, and social responsibility. If done in tandem with other mentor-mentee pairs, this approach can create a shared experience and relationships among mentees, which mentors can support by facilitating reflections and peer discussions. In general, group mentoring and joint outings create opportunities for mentees to network with each other, build a sense of community, and for natural peer-mentoring relationships to emerge. If mentee’s have challenges during these activities, the close relationship with their mentor can be a “secure base” for safety and emotional support, in line with the importance of attachment in a close mentoring relationship.

In tandem, mentoring programs can incorporate empirically supported activities into their programming. These evidence-based activities would support mentee interpersonal effectiveness, which could help with feelings of loneliness and social isolation, in addition to supporting positive development more generally. The type of curricula could be selected by program administrators to meet the needs of the mentee population. Some youth might benefit from a social-emotional learning curricula[6], whereas others may benefit more from support for emotional regulation challenges such as through DBT Steps-A[7]. While these programs could theoretically be administered individually by mentors, training individual mentors in evidence-based curricula would be difficult in practice. Instead, instruction could be facilitated by mentoring program staff (in a group setting!) or through an online curriculum, and mentors could support youth through follow up conversations that emphasize skill-building, goal setting, tracking progress, and other positive youth development approaches. Mentee investment in such activities would benefit from a close mentor-mentee relationship, and mentors could encourage mentees to apply these skills to peer relationships and community involvement to reduce loneliness and social isolation.

By acknowledging the limitations of the mentoring relationship in certain contexts and supplementing it with complementary strategies, community mentoring could become an important service to address youth loneliness and social isolation. However, the mentoring relationship alone may not be a powerful enough corrective experience for youth already experiencing such feelings[8]. To maximize mentoring’s potential, it may be important to adopt a comprehensive approach that combines mentoring relationships with complementary strategies to help youth to build relationships with peers and become involved in their community. This approach may be especially important for youth who are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation, or require additional support due to structural disadvantages like poverty. By adopting inclusive training practices and complementary activities, mentoring programs can foster supportive relationships and community connections, while also empowering lonely and socially isolated youth with resilience, coping strategies, and a sense of belonging.

This post originally appeared on the National Mentoring Resource Center website.


[1]The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory. (2021). Protecting Youth Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[2]The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory. (2023). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[3]Keller, T. E., Perry, M., & Spencer, R. (2020). Reducing Social Isolation Through Formal Youth Mentoring: Opportunities and Potential Pitfalls. Clinical Social Work Journal, 48(1), 35–45.

[4]Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (September 2019). Trauma-Informed Mentoring.

[5]Standford Medicine Children’s Health. (2023). Teens: Relationship Development.

[6]Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (n.d.). Program Guide.

[7]DBT is Schools. (n.d.). DBT STEPS-A Curriculum: DBT Skills in Schools: Skills Training and Emotional Problem Solving for Adolescents.

[8]Fallavollita, W. L., & Lyons, M. D. (2023). Social acceptance from peers and youth mentoring: Implications for addressing loneliness and social isolation. Journal of Community Psychology, 51(5), 2065–2082.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Westley Fallavollita is a doctoral student in Clinical and School Psychology in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. Before beginning his studies, he served for two years in the national service programs AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and City Year Washington, DC and is a recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Working with his research mentor, Dr. Mike Lyons, he has published several articles on youth mentoring, including an examination of mentoring and social acceptance from peers and implications for addressing loneliness and social isolation.

Awards: 2023 Year in Review

By: Leslie M. Booren


  • As the holiday season approaches, Youth-Nex is revisiting the 2023 archives for our award winners.
  • We highlight the Youth-Nex researchers who have been recognized in their respective fields of study.
  • Read more and see what you may have missed in 2023 in this awards year in review.
Source: Youth-Nex

Youth-Nex, as a trans-disciplinary center, continues to conduct translational research in all our scholarship and innovation. Our researchers aim to expand and apply the science of positive youth development to enhance the strengths of youth and to prevent developmental risk such as violence, physical and mental health issues, substance abuse, and school failure.

The scholars at Youth-Nex are being recognized locally, nationally and internationally for their research, teaching and field-building work in our communities. Highlighted here are some awards and honors from 2023:

Please join us in congratulating these scholars and the awarding organizations for providing opportunities for recognition!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Leslie M. Booren is the Associate Director for Communications and Operations at Youth-Nex and the Youth-Nex blog editor. In this role, she manages operations, HR, events, communications and marketing for the center. Previously she has worked at the Center for Race and Public Education in the South (CRPES), EdPolicyWorks, and the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) in various roles from research faculty to managing director. She has a strong interest in community and youth development by bridging applied and research-based practices.