As a college student at Tulane University, Anna Hamilton was trying to decide whether she wanted to study education or psychology.
“I was very interested in working with children in some capacity and early on as an undergraduate, I got involved in psychological research working in a lab where I studied prejudice and stigma,” Hamilton recalls.
Outside the lab, Hamilton worked with children, leading social-emotional skills groups at an elementary school. She also worked as an intern at a family resource center, providing trauma-informed care for children and families who were involved with Louisiana’s Department of Child and Family Services.
For Hamilton, working with children won out, and she enrolled in Boston College to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
“I thought I was leaving the research world behind,” she says.
But in 2016, a few weeks after she started her master’s program, Hamilton started working as a graduate assistant at City Connects and stepped back into the research world.
There was a difference. In college, the research she had done explored theories about prejudice. At City Connects, the research work was applied; Hamilton was helping to answer the question of how, exactly, City Connects was having an impact on school children.
Then, as a PhD student, enrolled in the Counseling Psychology Program at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Hamilton took on larger projects, looking at how Cradles to Crayons, a City Connects community partner, was reaching families. She also worked as a teaching assistant in a school counseling class taught by Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director.
There’s more acknowledgement that we need whole child education, and that we can’t just look at test scores. I’m very hopeful that we’re going to keep shifting the conversation in this direction.”– Anna Hamilton
“Because I’ve worked with different people at City Connects, I’ve learned so much and had really wonderful mentors from so many different disciplinary backgrounds.”
Now, Hamilton has changed her status at City Connects by joining the staff as a Research Associate of Resource and Innovation. She is involved in research, and she’s been serving as a project manager, overseeing the preliminary Needs Assessment in City Connects’ schools in Indiana. In addition, she’ll teach a class this summer on adolescent development.
“I’ve also been closely involved this year with our expansion in Ireland. And I’ve been learning from the folks over there who have a different training background. They take a strengths-based view which aligns beautifully with City Connects.”
“In the past, especially in psychology, there has been a deficit-based orientation where you try to understand a child based on a mental health diagnosis. What drew me to City Connects is its strengths-based approach of thinking about not just behavioral issues but also about children’s interests and what they hope to do in areas where they feel competent. When we know this, we can create situations where students can grow and thrive, rather than just thinking about fixing behavioral issues.”
Hamilton still loves working directly with children, which she has done for the last few years, working as a child therapist at a local, outpatient clinic, the Brookline Center for Community Health.
In the years ahead, Hamilton hopes to see the fields of psychology and education shift from reaction to prevention.
“From a research perspective, it’s much harder to measure practices that are effective in prevention. It’s easier to measure an intervention that’s meant to make something stop.
“But prevention is essential. You see it with COVID-19, which has revealed the longstanding shortage of mental health services and supports for students. I saw that working in outpatient mental health. The waitlists are so long that by the time children access treatment, it’s harder to have a positive impact.”
Hamilton also sees some good that had come out of the pandemic.
“I hate that it had to come from a crisis, but I think that the conversation is shifting in the United States, and people are acknowledging that students are more than just academic achievers, that we have to look at all the domains in their lives.
“City Connects has been talking about this for so long, all of the out-of-school factors, so it’s exciting to see this approach being taken up in local and federal policymaking. There’s more acknowledgement that we need whole child education, and that we can’t just look at test scores. I’m very hopeful that we’re going to keep shifting the conversation in this direction.”