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NEPC Talks Education: Discussing the Use of Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) in Education

BOULDER, CO (February 15, 2024) – In this month's episode of NEPC Talks Education, Christopher Saldaña interviews Dr. Van Lac, Ms. Ariel Reyes, and Ms. Carolina Montez-DeOca about the use of Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) in education. They discuss collaborative research examining youth and teacher mental health and well-being.

Dr. Lac is an associate professor in the University of Illinois Chicago’s College of Education, where her research focuses on how educational leaders can work alongside minoritized youth through participatory action research to enact social change and develop and/or strengthen the racial consciousness of K-12 students, educators, and aspiring school leaders. Ms. Reyes is currently an Assistant Principal of Instruction at a charter school in the Southwest. She is also a first-gen, cisgender, Latina college student who holds a master's degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Ms. Montez-DeOca is a Latina high school senior and currently holds the positions of Senior Class President and President of the YPAR group.

The podcast focuses on a project at a high school in the southwest of the United States. Dr. Lac, Ms. Reyes, and Ms. Montez-DeOca explain how they conducted their research by drawing on YPAR, a methodological approach that centers youth voice and expertise in crafting research questions, research design, data collection, and analysis. Dr. Lac notes how youth-led research design creates opportunities for youth to leverage their expertise about their experiences to improve their educational opportunities. Ms. Montez-DeOca, for example, notes that her motivation for conducting research stemmed from her experience struggling with mental health during the pandemic and her desire to understand how her classmates and teachers were holding up in hard times.

With Dr. Lac and Ms. Reyes supporting the design and the administration of a survey that yielded above a 90% response rate for teachers and students in Ms. Montez-DeOca’s high school, the team arrived at recommendations for additional support personnel in schools and additional resources to support teacher well-being. In fact, the survey data continue to inform school policy and practice around mental health today.

Ms. Montez-DeOca explains during the podcast how the process gave her confidence to continue to ask questions about her own educational experiences and to consider how schools and K-12 public education might continue to improve to better serve students like herself.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple Podcasts under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!


The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: