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.

Youth Voices on Classroom Censorship Take Center Stage

By: Liz Nigro


  • Youth spend a majority of their time in schools, yet they have very little say about what is (or is not) censored in their classrooms.
  • One youth-led social justice theater troupe, the EPIC Theatre Ensemble, is touring the country at the intersection of action and art to share their teen-written plays on topics important to young people.
  • Learn about their recent performance on classroom censorship and review resources relating to adult critical motivation and action.
Source: Liz Nigro & EPIC Theatre Ensemble

It is estimated that youth spend on average 4-6 hours a day in classrooms, many of which are heavily adult-led and governed by policies that likely were developed without youth input. Many believe that youth deserve a say in what is happening in their learning environments, including what is censored or allowed in classrooms.

Uplifting youth voices about classroom censorship may be a key component for future policy discussions. UVA recently hosted the renowned youth-led social justice theater troupe, EPIC Theatre Ensemble, who performed a student-written play on the topic of classroom censorship, specifically bans of “critical race theory” (CRT) and lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, etc. (LGBTQ+) content.

Why Engage with the Issue of Classroom Censorship

Classroom censorship in the Commonwealth of Virginia and nationwide is a relevant and timely issue. For instance, in 2022, the VA governor released executive order one, banning the teaching of “divisive concepts,” specifically what the administration labeled CRT, in K-12 public schools. More recently, in 2023, additional guidance was released rolling back protections for transgender students. School board meeting minutes and book bans suggest Virginia residents should be increasingly concerned with suppression of historically marginalized voices.

The youth involved in EPIC are at the intersection of both action and art on every students’ right to learn. While in Charlottesville, the three high school and one college student performed a play and facilitated a dialogue about classroom censorship in front of an audience of community members, including UVA undergraduate and graduate students across schools, professors, former and current teachers, as well as current students in the K-12 system. The four players jumped between satirical sketches and longer form commentary on the state of classroom censorship. More specifically, performance highlights included an absurdist game show for teachers trying to teach histories of enslavement, civil rights, etc., without words banned in various states’ legislation, a family teacher conference discussing students’ right to learn, and student commentary. After the performance during a guided dialogue, audience members expressed how the performance cleverly illuminated tensions currently facing teachers, students, families, administrators and the public as well as glimmers of hope within resistance movements, as seen in Indiana.

Classroom Censorship Resources

Classroom censorship is a national and state issue that is important whether you are a parent, educator or youth-serving professional. Look up more about your local school board and get involved! If you are wanting to learn more, here are some additional informational resources that may be helpful:

Looking forward, the EPIC Theatre Ensemble plans to continue using art as a mechanism for social change during their upcoming southern tour, sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center as well as additional shows with school district partners. The non-profit also plans to continue using a UVA student-designed survey to gather information on how their work catalyzes motivation and action. Additionally, they hope to provide localized resource guides, with action suggestions, like the one created for the Charlottesville visit.

EPIC’s Mission & Work

For more than twenty years, New York City based EPIC Theatre Ensemble has worked to inspire youth to be creative and engaged citizens, encourage community collaboration, as well as enlighten and empower those involved. To achieve this mission, EPIC has a multi-prong approach:

  1. EPIC partners with schools throughout the country to host week-long social justice monologue writing sessions during middle or high school class periods.
  2. In New York City, they host EPIC Remix throughout the school year, which is an afterschool program of up to 60 students, which culminates in a theater or film performance alongside professional artists.
  3. Seniors in this program also receive individualized college counseling, with 100% of participants going on to college.
  4. EPIC Next, perhaps the most ambitious arm of the program, hires youth from EPIC Remix as summer interns to conduct interviews about pressing social justice issues and write what will become a thirty-minute-long touring play.

Topics of EPIC’s touring plays include school segregation, why become a teacher, and classroom censorship. To learn more about EPIC or to donate, please visit their website.

The UVA performance was directly followed by a dialogue and a UVA student-designed survey to gauge audience members’ critical motivation following the show. The EPIC teens also toured UVA and met with supporters like Jessica Harris, a former UVA theater major, current employee at the Equity Center, and the founder of the local non-profit, Empowered Players. The performance was supported in part by funds from the School of Education & Human Development’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusions, and Youth-Nex.

In conclusion, EPIC Theatre Ensemble’s visit to UVA represents cross-school and community collaboration, mobilization to social change through the arts, and youth participatory action research partnerships.

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: Liz Nigro is a former general and special education teacher in D.C. public and public charter schools, who is currently researching turn-around efforts and the politics of equitable schooling with her advisor, Beth Schueler. Nigro’s primary research interests include ethno-racial and socioeconomic integration in early childhood education as well as how to mobilize critical consciousness and equitable education reform. She is excited to use the quantitative survey and qualitative data collected from this event to produce a research-practice partnership product.

Research in Brief: Restorative Practices, Socio-Emotional Well-Being, & Racial Justice

By: Delaney Desman


  • 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 about completing the circle by linking restorative practices, socio-emotional well-being, and racial justice in schools.
Source: Canva

The authors propose a three-part model to implement restorative practices in schools with efficacy. First, they recommend targeting student and faculty behaviors through restorative practices to help reduce stress, foster trust between students and teachers, & increase classroom engagement. Second, the authors argue for the integration of tier three mental health supports within restorative practices through community partnerships and collaboration. Finally, the authors highlight the importance of school staff recognizing and understanding the impact of structural and interpersonal racism, particularly for Black and Latinx youth. They recommend schools take a trauma-informed approach to bolstering student mental health supports and services. By focusing on these three actions, schools can better ensure restorative practices are benefiting students in an equitable way.


School mental health professionals must be cognizant and actively combat ways institutionalized racism impacts students, such as exclusionary discipline. When students are suspended they are not able to engage in school, maintain academic achievement, and have positive associations with their school community.

Equity Considerations

The article fails to address implications for students with disabilities, various socioeconomic statuses, or English language learners. This Western perspective is not explicitly addressed and raises concerns about whether or not restorative practices are culturally relevant or appropriate for all students.

Practitioner Tips

  • Schools should emphasize strengthening the tier 1 socio-emotional climate within the school. This approach supports students and staff, builds community, and strengthens relationships within schools.
  • Fostering a positive school climate and using a trauma-informed lens to support students is an important step to creating a positive school culture.
  • Ensure acute mental health needs of students are addressed through services and resources to allow for true restoration to take place.
  • Address systemic and interpersonal racism within schools (past and present) to ensure restorative practices benefit students equitably.


Huguley, J.P., Fussell-Ware, D.J., Stuart McQueen, S., Wang, M.T., & DeBellis, B.R. (2022). Completing the circle: Linkages between restorative practices, socio-emotional well-being, and racial justice in schools. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 30(2), 138-153. 88989

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: Delaney Desman 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.