From Tufts to School Psychology

Master’s student Marquel Norton shares his skills as an intern at local charter school while piloting a new educational studies program

February 6, 2017

By Kristin Livingston, A05

While growing up in Fort Worth, TX, Marquel Norton, A14, AG17, says he suppressed much of his true identity. But life at Tufts, as he’s found over the past seven years, is all about waving your own quirky flag—a tapestry of the diverse passions you can pursue, and the core values of the person you’ve become. Now, as a master’s student in the school psychology program, he is able to share those passions—at Tufts and at a local charter school.

Think For Yourself

Dive in and get dirty. That’s how Norton describes his first four years as an undergraduate on the Hill. “That’s what Tufts wants you to do,” he says. He readily complied, on stage in the Spirit of Color hip-hop and contemporary dance performance showcase, and in the classrooms of his Tufts courses and of those in local schools. Norton was an avid and active team leader of Jumpstart, a national early education organization that places college students as part-time aides in public preschools.

“Tufts was all about pushing my reasoning,” Norton says. “We can be very theoretical, but Tufts really wants you to think for yourself, taking what you’re learning and applying it directly.”

Norton wasn’t ready to leave that challenge behind, even  after receiving his undergraduate degree in child development and clinical psychology. He’s currently finishing up a master’s degree program in school psychology with a new educational studies concentration that he helped pilot.

With this program, Norton is really earning two degrees: a Master of Arts (M.A.) and an Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree. Norton says bringing in the educational studies component has made this special degree even more specialized, and came about from attending an Educational Studies class.

“I was blown away by the pedagogy,” he says. “The language, the reasoning, the content. The way it keyed into racism and how it operates in schools. I thought, I want more of this.” He wrote a proposal to the dean to add more Educational Studies courses to his program for the concentration, and it was accepted. “Tufts rewards anyone who wants to work harder,” Norton says. “Adding these classes to my program while in an internship has truly been the most rewarding journey.”

Teamwork Is the Dream Work

Norton interns at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Dorchester where music is infused into the curriculum—it’s right up his alley. His supervisor is the head of the special education department. “I’ve been able to pick up her evaluation caseload and add counseling cases, following students from evaluation to intervention,” he says. Sometimes he’s caught in the crosshairs of a crisis; the school didn’t evaluate the student in time. But Norton will ask the students, How did the school as a system not help you? What brought you to this moment?

Marquel Norton (right) works with a student at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (photo by Catherine Martin).

“Often we want to blame ‘home’ for why kids are struggling in school,” he says. “But the school needs to provide a safe environment for the kids, especially those in crisis.” Those cases have prompted the teachers and family to come together as a team, with Norton bringing in resources and skills gained from his Tufts classes. “That teamwork feels incredible because we now know that everyone is actively involved in the child’s care,” he says.

Also incredible, he adds, is the innovation and creativity his program emphasizes.

Take building social skills during the intervention phase. Norton’s been known to challenge kids on the spectrum to games of chess — a social experience that he says helps them to plan and organize parts of their lives. He also teaches dance to adolescents with special needs at the Boston Ballet adaptive dance program.

“It’s the best thing ever,” he says. He got the gig through a Tufts alumna. Norton says he loves creating an environment for students where they can excel outside of academic demands. “You feel great because they welcome you into their world where you can teach them improvisation skills to find their own dance voice; they’re full of this exuberant joy.”

Never Far From Home

Spend an hour with Norton and, he says, he’ll convince you to come to Tufts. It pushed him to become a better person, thinker, and citizen. “I can’t imagine my life without it,” he says.

Tufts is a create-your-own-adventure situation. It allows you the autonomy to do critical work while improving your reasoning, giving you a space to talk critically, and not be complacent in anything.

Marquel Norton

“Tufts is a create-your-own-adventure situation. It allows you the autonomy to do critical work while improving your reasoning, giving you a space to talk critically, and not be complacent in anything. We’re global citizens, in thought and practice,” he adds. “While a lot of what we do is bound by U.S. context, it doesn’t stop us from exploring what else is out there.”

After seven years in Medford, it’ll be strange for him to leave his Tufts home. But he’s excited to pursue his goal of becoming a school psychologist in an inner city. It’s just a step toward getting his Ph.D. and becoming a professor—perhaps even one day back on the Hill.

Photos by Catherine Martin, Conservatory Lab Charter School Foundation, Inc.