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A Commitment to At-Risk Youth: Christine Ha, PSP'22

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Prevention Science and Practice reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Christine Ha

"Visiting Gutman for the first time after a year of remote learning!"

Photo: Courtesy of Christine Ha

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes graduating Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Christine Ha will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for the Prevention Science and Practice (PSP) Program during HGSE's Convocation exercises on May 25.

Senior Lecturer Josephine Kim comments on Ha's selection: “Christine's intellectual contributions transcended both geographical and multimodal boundaries during remote learning. During a time when showing up at the right link, on the right day and time, and in the right time zone was in itself a monumental feat, Christine's work on ‘Reimagining Children's Screen Time: An SEL Playbook and Toolkit for Show Creators' offered to peer educators a seismic paradigm shift — one that reframed children's passive consumerism of screen time to one of proactive authorship.”

We spoke to Ha about her time at HGSE, her future goals, and the importance of self-care:

What were your goals in coming to the Ed School — and have those goals changed?  

Coming to the Ed School, my goals were to design culturally relevant mental health interventions for at-risk youth in South Korea. This commitment stemmed from my lived experiences in a country, which, historically, has had one of the highest teenage suicide rates in the world. During my undergraduate program, I held multiple roles in educational settings, which gave me the privilege of working directly with youth across different age groups — as a teaching assistant, a tutor, and a community mentor. I witnessed upfront flagrant flaws in the educational system and model of my country — problems that were undeniably and inextricably linked to the national teenage suicide and mental health crisis. In particular, I confronted the deeply unsettling reality that was the significant lack of mental health support for students in schools and private educational institutions, the places where they spent the majority of their time. ...

Coming out of the PSP Program, my goals remain largely similar. I still aspire to implement culturally specific mental health prevention programming for at-risk Korean youth — ones that will equip them with critical, social-emotional skills. But the framework and lens through which I now view these issues have changed vastly. Through courses including Developmental Insights: Linking the Science of Human Development to Practice and Policy with Professor Stephanie Jones and Senior Lecturer Junlei Li, I recognized the pressing need for aspiring practitioners like myself to be critically aware of their own identities and privileges, and how those can impact their work with marginalized communities. I recognized the need to confront my own implicit biases and overcome my own immunity to change. I learned to view individuals through a strengths-based lens and not through a damage-centered narrative or a “single story,” and to not do anything about people, without people. 

In my future work, I will strive towards a strengths-based and collaborative approach, one in which the voices of children, youth, and their families are honored and heard. Moreover, I hope to further explore what it means to foster caring relationships with students and to create loving spaces in schools and communities, in which they feel psychologically safe, accepted, and loved. 

"My goal will be to empower and help [my students] identify and build upon their own strengths so that they become the agents of positive change in their lives."

What surprised you about your time at HGSE?

What surprised me was the dedication that faculty and students had to creating loving spaces in the classroom, a space where people felt that it was okay to bring their authentic selves and stories. I really appreciated how willing my classmates were to being vulnerable first, whether it was during a large group discussion, breakout room, or in a post-class conversation. I also learned that at times, it’s more than okay to prioritize your well-being. The generosity and compassion that my TFs always showed when it came to providing extensions for assignment deadlines taught me so much about the importance of self-care. 

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?

I will probably never forget Designing for Learning by Creating with Associate Professor Karen Brennan. Each class was a magical — and radically different — learning experience. In this course, I delved into the four pillars of constructionist learning — namely, Personalizing, Creating, Sharing, and Reflecting — and explored what it means to maximize learner agency in the classroom. Whereas prior to HGSE, I was accustomed to traditional, instructionist methods of education, [this course] awakened me to project-based learning and a new way of thinking about schools and education.

The best part, for me, was the series of “hands-on” activities that I engaged in over the semester. I built a diorama symbolizing my ideal classroom, played around with Scratch, and even started an online Christian travel blog, among many other activities. I experimented, replayed, reflected, and revised. I was reminded that learning is not a linear, but an organic process. You encounter, experiment, and tinker with objects out in the real world. As a learner, I experienced a degree of agency, psychological safety, and intrinsic motivation that I never had in my pre-HGSE classroom experiences. And I recognized how integral these factors are to a student’s success. 

What is something that you learned this year that you will take with you throughout your career in education?

Reading about damaged-centered research, and how even well-meaning researchers, if operating on deficit frameworks, could inflict greater harm on the very communities that they aimed to help, I was awakened to the importance of practicing reflexivity. I learned to ask critical questions such as: Is my work inciting positive action or reaffirming harmful stereotypes and perpetuating single-sided narratives? Have my identity, life trajectory, and experiences cultivated beliefs and assumptions that could adversely impact my relationships and interactions with various populations? Am I doing research with people, or simply on them? Reflexivity requires this critical introspection at every stage of the research process. Both in prevention research and programming, I must be willing to confront and make explicit the parts of my identity that can impact the design, execution, and communication of my work. ... 

My final takeaway from PSP is that every relationship that I have with a student should be viewed as a partnership, instead of a one-way exchange. In my future work, I will practice the critical skill of listening first and letting youth tell their own stories. Not assuming what their needs and difficulties are, not focusing on filling in the “gaps.” Instead, my goal will be to empower and help them identify and build upon their own strengths so that they become the agents of positive change in their lives.