Bridging the Gap Between Teaching and Mental Health: School Psychology alumna, Elisa Huerta, shares her career journey

Photo of Elisa Huerta in cap and gown holding diploma

Elisa Huerta, 2023 graduate of the school psychology MA/CAGS program at William James College (WJC), worked as a high school biology teacher in New York City for four years, but soon realized the best parts of her job were the conversations she was having with her students rather than the actual instruction.

Huerta noticed that many of her students had emotional challenges or learning difficulties that she didn't feel equipped to manage. Realizing she could make a bigger difference in these students’ lives with the proper training, Huerta started to reassess her career goals.

“I loved my job, but I started looking into grad schools,” explained Huerta. “I knew I wanted to keep working in a school, but I also knew I needed something else.”

In her research and conversations with colleagues, school psychology jumped out as the perfect bridge between working directly with students in schools and providing mental health and academic support to children and adolescents.

“I came to an open house [at WJC] and everyone I met was so welcoming—it was an incredible experience,” explained Huerta, who added that meeting Dr. Mari Carmen Bennasar, director of the Latino Mental Health Program, was a highlight.

“I am from Spain and Spanish is my first language,” said Huerta. “Working with Latino students and families has always been a passion of mine, so when I found out the WJC has a program specifically geared towards helping that population I thought ‘ok, this is where I want to be.’”

Through her practicum and internship experiences while at WJC, Huerta experienced first-hand the need that exists in schools. During her second year, Huerta worked at Framingham High School alongside a trilingual school psychologist. She also had the opportunity to shadow a psychologist in the school’s Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) program helping students reintegrate back into middle and high school after an extended absence.

“I fell in love with the BRYT program and also saw how much of a need there was for a bilingual psychologist there,” Huerta said. She ended up loving the work so much that she continued working at BRYT for her third-year internship, telling herself at the end of it, “This is the job that I want—how do I find it?”

Luckily, Huerta didn’t have to search too far. She learned that the public schools in Milford, MA had plans to begin a BRYT program for their students. Huerta was hired as the new program’s school psychologist alongside a team of two academic teachers and several aids.

“Milford is a suburban high school but 60% of their students speak Spanish or Portuguese, which are the two languages that I speak, so this is exactly what I wanted. It’s like a dream job,” shared Huerta.

In her role helping students return to school, often after emotionally intense experiences, Huerta and her colleagues help with creating an academic plan for missed work, scheduling tutoring sessions, and—for Huerta—meeting on a weekly basis with students’ parents, therapists, or other members of the care team they have outside of school. Huerta has even worked with the principal, vice principal, and special educator at Milford High School to develop a unique extension of the BRYT model that focuses on prevention.

Huerta cites WJC as an important part of her career journey and she continues to work closely with current and former faculty members. Huerta has researched and presented at multiple conferences with Dr. Daniel Jacobs, associate professor in the school psychology and organizational and leadership psychology departments, on bilingual and cultural factors related to working with families with substance use disorders. She has also collaborated with Dr. Craig Murphy, a former WJC faculty member, to conduct psychological evaluations in Spanish and Portuguese over the past summer.

“It’s all thanks to WJC for the confidence that I have professionally to work with Portuguese and Spanish speaking families. It’s a dream of mine to work with Latino families,” said Huerta. “This is exciting and I have WJC to thank for all of it!”


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