Eight Silva Health Magnet students began exploring careers in the mental health field this school year with a new internship program at the Paso Del Norte Child Development Center.
The seniors started the internship in February under the guidance of the center’s registered behavioral technicians doing rotations in applied behavior analysis, an evidence-based therapeutic intervention for children with autism.
“This program is a stepping stone for the pathway for the registered behavioral therapists, so it really gives them a foundation where they can see where it can build into,” said Denise Galvez, Silva magnet coordinator. “A lot of our students are interested in working with kids, or in psychiatry and mental health, but we hadn’t really had that opportunity because it’s more difficult to get into. This is opening our doors to something new.”
The program is available to seniors enrolled in the HST Practicum II course, which allows them to identify a healthcare career and shadow a professional in their field. The seniors first completed online modules independently before they began the internship.
“I originally wanted to be a psychiatrist because I’m interested in mental health,” said senior Emely Muñoz. “There’s not enough focus on mental health, it’s all physical health. If you’re physically sick, you obviously go to the doctor but if mentally sick, nobody wants to go to the doctor. They’re too afraid because of the stigma.”
She’s enjoying the experience and it has solidified her desire to enter a mental health career even if it isn’t as a psychiatrist.
“Now, I’m experiencing applied behavior analysis. I never knew about until now and now I’m thinking I’d love to be doctor in behavior analysis,” Muñoz said. “I’m still between the two but I’m really considering this.”
Senior Estefania Varela likes the fact that the program offers a certification.
“This gives us more opportunities to look at other health fields,” Varela said. “I’ve never done anything like this before and I thought it was interesting to get involved and see something other than careers in the hospital.
Paso del Norte Child Development Center Executive Director Al Velarde, who also is the vice president for the EPISD Board of Trustees, said his team worked closely with Silva to offer this opportunity. It is being offered at no cost to EPISD.
“One of the things that has been so difficult for Silva is to find programs willing to allow high school students deliver direct service to clients,” he said. “With our program, the Silva students will be delivering interventions alongside our RBTs and gaining valuable experience as they move towards their futures.”
Velarde and his team have been working with UTEP and they have agreed to open a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst Master’s Program to be able to meet the extreme shortage in the city. The BCBA is the lead therapist among a team of technicians who leads the interventions for clients.
“The best thing about this partnership is that any student who enters the program can graduate with their registered behavior technician certificate and become eligible to work as an RBT at any clinic that offers applied behavior analysis upon graduation,” Velarde said. “With UTEP opening the master’s program, these students can work in the field and obtain their Board Certified Behavior Analyst accreditation in El Paso.”
Story by Reneé De Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD