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Lehigh School Psychology alumna, Dr. Brittany Zakszeski, receives American Psychological Foundation John and Polly Sparks Foundation Early Career Grant

Wednesday, October 7, 2020 - 9:15am

Brittany Zakszeski, Ph.D., NCSP, Lehigh School Psychology alumna and training and consulting specialist at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Center for Effective Schools was recently recognized by the American Psychological Foundation (APF) for her work in examining ways to reduce challenging behaviors in children.

Zakszeski was awarded the APF John and Polly Sparks Foundation Early Career Grant and will use the nearly $20,000 grant to study the effectiveness of “Calm Cat,” a relaxation skills training program she developed for elementary school students. The John and Polly Sparks Early Career Grant supports early career psychologists conducting research in the area of early intervention and treatment for serious emotional disturbance in children. The John and Polly Sparks Foundation partnered with APF to empower early career psychologists to produce scientifically-based research and programs that could provide models for broad-based applications across the country.

Helping students develop relaxation skills

Zakszeski plans to use the APF grant to partner with local elementary schools and evaluate the effectiveness of the “Calm Cat” early intervention program, which is designed to help educators teach relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation, to students with, or at risk for developing, emotional disorders.

“I want to thank the APF for awarding me this generous grant. The ‘Calm Cat’ program holds great promise for schools because it can be implemented by a variety of staff members, not just those who are trained in providing behavioral healthcare services, and it can be taught to young children, including those for whom other approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, might be too developmentally advanced,” Brittany explained. “At each school, we will train staff on this program and conduct universal screenings of students’ emotional and behavioral risks. Students who are identified as being at risk for developing emotional disorders will be eligible to participate in ‘Calm Cat.’”

“Brittany was an exceptional student while at Lehigh and she continues to be an outstanding scientist and practitioner as evident in being recognized this award,” said Dr. Robin Hojnoski, Lehigh Professor of School Psychology and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, who served as Zakszeski’s advisor.

“We are incredibly proud of Brittany, and want to congratulate her on receiving this prestigious award,” said Devereux Center for Effective Schools Director and Health Service Psychology Internship Director of Training Barry McCurdy, Ph.D., NCSP, BCBA-D. “We wish her the best as she documents the efficacy of the “Calm Cat” program, and applaud her efforts examining the need to train teachers on how to use effective praise to improve student behavior in the classroom. Her innovative and high-quality research on this important topic can help students achieve social, emotional and academic success.”

Earlier this year, Zakszeski was awarded the NASP Paul H. Henkin Memorial Scholarship Award. She received this early career award for her presentation documenting the need to support teachers’ classroom management practices. Read more here…