Tulane’s Dr. Courtney Baker, leader for Project DIRECT, a community-engaged program for children who live in poverty, has been honored with the Award for Psychology in the Public Interest, announced this summer by the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA).
Dr. Amanda Raines, spokesperson for LPA said the award is given “to an individual who has made significant scholarly or practical contributions to the health and well-being of the general public through their work in psychology.
“This year we are recognizing Courtney Baker, Ph.D. Dr. Baker is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Tulane University. Her program of work is designed to bridge the gap between science and practice, with a particular focus on disseminating and implementing evidence-based programs into school and community settings that serve children, youth, and families at risk for poor outcomes. Dr. Baker has published numerous peer-reviewed manuscripts and received support for her work through various intramural and extramural agencies. She routinely disseminates her work and gives back to the profession through her volunteer work with her academic institution, the field, and the community.”
Dr. Baker is the Project DIRECT Team Leader and Principal Investigator, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Tulane University. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty in child clinical psychology and she directs the APA-Accredited School Psychology doctoral program at Tulane. She also co-directs the Tulane University Psychology Clinic for Children and Adolescents.
Dr. Baker and her team members are partnering with 13 New Orleans childcares, Head Starts, and pre-K/K classrooms within charter schools, which serve low-income children, in a program named Project DIRECT, a community- engaged approach, aimed to reduce disparities in mental health and academic achievement.
Baker is reaching children who live in poverty, racial and ethnic minority children, and children who have experienced trauma. The efforts created by Dr. Baker and her team are designed to deliver high-quality evidence-based prevention and improve intervention programs for real-life applications, especially for children who are vulnerable to poor outcomes.
Following the best practices for working with marginalized communities, Baker and her group use a community-engaged research approach, to create high- quality, community-based mental health programs. They work to bridge the gap between research and practice and to ensure the results deliver effective prevention and interventions.
The Times asked Dr. Baker how she felt about receiving the award.
“I am beyond thrilled to be honored by my colleagues at LPA for my work in the area of psychology in the public interest. I have the beautiful award sitting prominently on my bookshelf behind me ––which is a lovely addition to my still numerous Zoom meetings!
“I have worked throughout my career to engage in meaningful, relevant research that can change systems and improve lives,” she said. “I am proud of my work so far, but I also strive to contribute so much more over the course of my career. The only way to do this work well, in my opinion, is to partner meaningfully with stakeholders who have more knowledge about the problems and solutions than I do. What I bring to the relationship is expertise in research methods and statistics (this may sound boring, but I think it’s a lot of fun!). I love that my partners are not only patients or caregivers of those who might one day receive the interventions I evaluate but also the educators, clinicians, trainers, and other practitioners who are responsible for actually delivering the program. We have all seen that interventions developed without these key perspectives front and center often fail, and quickly.”
Dr. Baker hopes to increase understanding and facilitate effective programs into community settings that serve children. One of the foundations of her work and scientific plan is the community-engaged research approach––to make sure all efforts are “relevant, culturally competent, and with a partnership focus and commitment to capacity building.”
Dr. Baker’s work is also guided by the fields of dissemination and implementation science and prevention science. Implementation science addresses the use of strategies to integrate evidence-based interventions and change practice patterns within specific settings.
Dissemination involves the distribution of an intervention or innovation to a specific audience. One of Dr. Baker’s main research goals is to disseminate findings nationally via conference presentations, invited presentations, and publications in academic journals and books.
She turned her considerable understanding of trauma sensitive education into a useful and innovative guide for teachers who want to be responsive to trauma in their students and themselves. Dr. Baker has teamed up with Arlene Elizabeth Casimir to author Trauma Responsive Pedagogy: Teaching for Healing and Transformation. The book is part of the Heinemann series, dedicated to teachers and edited by Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz.
Trauma Responsive Pedagogy is based on the foundational principle that children who are experiencing significant stress, either chronic or acute, cannot learn in a regular classroom. What is required are insightful teachers who understand trauma and its ramifications. The authors add the complex notion that often the teachers are also experiencing their own chronic stress.
One of the pillars of thought offered by Trauma Responsive Pedagogy is that teachers must find the center of compassion and understanding, for dealing with chronic stressors of poverty, discrimination, health challenges, and environmental crises.
The small but profound work is chocked-full of ideas to help educators develop ways to acknowledge trauma and its correlates, and support students to help them learn and reach their full potential.
What is she working on currently? “I’m working on several active and funded projects related to crisis intervention and trauma-informed approaches, especially in schools. My colleague Dr. Bonnie Nastasi and I, along with trainer and Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Mr. Brandon Wilks, recently held a crisis intervention training in New Orleans. We welcomed district staff from five Parishes, as well as staff from several non-profits with school-based mental health programs and school psychology faculty and trainees from two of the four programs in the state of Louisiana,” she said.
“Together, we were trained in the national, evidence-informed PREPaRE model of school crisis prevention and intervention. The training was incredible, and we look forward to offering additional trainings in New Orleans and across the state. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice STOP School Violence Program, and you can learn more at https://projectpass.tulane.edu/.
“Second,” Dr. Baker said, “I am so grateful to be part of a national Center funded by SAMHSA called the Coalition for Compassionate Schools. We are working to disseminate and scale up traumainformed approaches in New Orleans schools, by training educators in the intervention and providing consultation and technical assistance.
“Over time, we’ll also work in after-school settings and with national partners. I have been particularly interested in measuring outcomes, evaluating processes, and understanding the impact of traumainformed schools on students and educators. My role on the project focuses on these areas of inquiry, and I am so happy to spread the word nationally about the amazing work that the Coalition has been doing here in New Orleans,” she said.
“Finally, I have been working for over five years as the external evaluator of Trauma Smart, which is a widely used, evidenceinformed curriculum for trauma–nformed approaches in early learn and school settings. We published the findings of our aggregate evaluation data in 2021 […] and our most recent efforts have focused on understanding how and why some programs sustain the intervention even years into the future while others flounder.
“We developed the instrument with our partners at Trauma Smart, combining what is known from empirical investigations with what is understood from the day-to-day work of implementing and sustaining trauma-informed approaches in schools. We came up with an instrument, which our colleague Ryan Pankiewicz at Trauma Smart spearheaded and named the Trauma Smart sustaining Organizations Scale (TSSOS, pronounced T-Sauce), and our next step is to evaluate how scores on the TSSOS relate to other metrics we already gather such as attitudes favorable to trauma-informed care. Stay tuned, as we hope to present this work at an upcoming conference!”
We asked her about what else is on the horizon.
“The future is always so exciting! I am very pleased to welcome my newest PhD student to my lab, Tulane, and New Orleans – Ms. Alanna Manigault, who comes to us from Pittsburgh and is interested in school discipline and equity, especially for marginalized youth. I can’t wait to explore that topic with her during her time in our program!” Dr. Baker said.
“We are also working hard to get some funding from the federal government to conduct a randomized controlled trial of Trauma Smart, which I mentioned above. As you know, randomized experiments provide the best evidence of efficacy, although they are exceedingly difficult, complex, and expensive when the intervention happens at the whole school or system level.
“My other plans for funded projects include some evaluation of and improvements to one of our more popular instruments, the ARTIC, as well as a recommitment to some of my early childhood social emotional learning and classroom behavior management work,” she said.
“I’m also continuing in my role as the director of the APA-Accredited School Psychology program here at Tulane, and enjoying seeing our students move through the program and gain so much valuable experience in their pathways to becoming doctoral-level school psychologists––and hopefully remaining here in New Orleans and Louisiana once they are done!”