“Even though I am an immigrant, I have acquired a level of educational privilege with my Ph.D. and I want to use that to open up doors [and] open up spaces where I can share that power and privilege with others,” explains Dr. David Aguayo, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri. Dr. Aguayo works in the Missouri Prevention Center (MPC), which connects researchers with the community to promote social and academic success for Missouri youths and their families. Directed by Drs. Wendy Reinke and Keith Herman, the MPC provides consultation services, conducts research, and participates in outreach to help improve the mental health of youth through prevention science.

Dr. Aguayo conducts research as the coordinator for Exploring Cultural Practices (ECP), a research development project funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). This project works with students, parents, and teachers to understand the best culturally responsive practices needed in the classroom. Dr. Aguayo takes a non-traditional approach to research by involving parents and students in the research process, prioritizing their voices and stories. The goal of the ECP project is to design a professional development guide to coach teachers on how to work with students using parent and student’s perspectives.

Dr. Aguayo notes that there are a lot of academic disparities between students of culturally diverse backgrounds and their White counterparts. Based on the research and his personal experience as an educator, he has seen that black students are over-represented in after-school suspension and students of color are continuing to lag behind in academic performance. ECP is attempting to look at what is going on in the classroom and what the teacher could be doing to specifically work with students of color in order to address these disparities. Dr. Aguayo wants teachers to understand how to use student’s cultural and familial assets as a basis for teaching, rather than treating students through a “deficit lens.” He also wants to get the students’ opinion on what is going on in the classroom and what helpful practices they have seen teachers engage in. This, along with engaging with parents, gives him insight into what the community believes culturally-responsive practices are needed in the classroom.

Dr. Aguayo’s research takes a more integrated approach to community-engaged outreach. Part of the IES grant, he has employed parents with school-aged children from the community to be a part of data collection team for the project. He selected these parents because they are already engaging in various levels of equity work. “Each one of those parents is doing something to move our city [and] our schools forward and improving how students and families of color are being treated,” Dr. Aguayo explains. He believes it is important to create a space in his research to be able to gather the input of this population and work collaboratively towards a shared vision.

“If we are going to create outreach, we need to create outreach that is within the design of the research.”

Dr. Aguayo believes this government-funded project is an example of the growing movement towards integrating the community with research and finding other ways to engage with research participants. While he notes that his methods are not perfect, working with MPC staff and researchers is teaching him how to create his community-engaged research projects. Dr. Aguayo is creating a research agenda that empowers research participants and gives a voice to members from the community on issues that directly involve them. Dr. Aguayo’s work demonstrates how researchers can think creatively and go beyond simply disseminating findings in order to better serve the community.

To learn more about Dr. David Aguayo, click here: https://education.missouri.edu/person/david-aguayo/

To learn more about the IES grant on culturally responsive practices, click here: https://education.missouri.edu/2018/07/new-ies-grant-will-help-teachers-become-more-culturally-responsive/

To learn more about the Missouri Prevention Center, click here: http://prevention.missouri.edu/about/