Wayne State University

Theoretical and Behavioral Foundations

Wayne State's urban focus leads budding school psychologists to Detroit

Published Monday, April 17, 2017

Monika Niemasik’s experiences as a developmental psychology major and program coordinator and facilitator for the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex County sparked her interest in providing psychological services in schools. After researching several programs in Ontario and Michigan, she decided Wayne State was where she wanted to earn her master’s in school and community psychology.

“I appreciate the fact that classes are in the evening. This allows students to learn from faculty who are psychologists currently working in the field, teach in the evening and share real-world school psychology examples and experiences,” said Niemasik. “In addition, I've always been inspired by the urban atmosphere that Detroit has to offer. I was very excited when I found out the first practicum placement at Wayne State was in the Detroit Public Schools Community District.”

Originally from Ann Arbor, Alexander Rigney earned a degree in psychology, then moved to Detroit, where he worked in education. He developed a passion for his work and the field, but after two years, decided he wanted to play a different role. Earning a degree in school psychology would allow him to combine his major interests. Wayne State’s location made it his first choice.

“I had been working in Detroit for the past three years, and I wanted to continue working and learning in the city,” said Rigney. “Wayne State offered me the chance to do just that.” 

The school and community psychology program involves three years of coursework and field experiences. During the first two years, students earn a master’s in School and Community Psychology, after which they are eligible for both preliminary school psychologist certification and a temporary limited license to practice psychology. In addition to completing full-time coursework, students must obtain experience through a 300-hour practicum — a course of study that helps clinicians prepare for the workplace by participating in activities that facilitate the practical application of classroom concepts in potential work environments — in a school setting and a 500-hour practicum in a clinical setting. In their third year, students attend class part-time while completing a yearlong (1,200 hours) paid internship in a school setting to earn a graduate certificate in advanced graduate studies in school psychology. Afterwards, they can seek full school psychologist certification and apply for the Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential through the National Association of School Psychologists. 

Both Niemasik and Rigney are completing practicum experiences at sites in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, where they are gaining valuable information and insight into their desired career and are jointly supervised by university faculty and fully credentialed on-site practitioners.

“Practicum experiences are invaluable for students and help them accumulate foundational experiences while embarking on their journey to become fully-licensed school psychologists,” said Lauren Mangus, Ph.D., practicum and internship coordinator and supervisor and lecturer in the Division of Theoretical and Behavioral Foundations. “We love partnering with public schools in Detroit to provide our students with rich experiences, as well as to provide services to school-aged students and families in our surrounding urban setting. These partnerships help us thrive as community-based practitioners.”

Niemasik was placed at Priest Elementary-Middle School, where she observes autism spectrum disorder and cognitive impairment classrooms. Last semester, she observed a general education classroom and a resource room. This process allows Niemasik — a native of Windsor — to learn more about the structure and daily activities of students. Last semester, in addition to observing one of the school psychologists, Rigney worked with third-grade students in a classroom at Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School. He not only observed but also assisted the teacher so he could understand what students and teachers deal with in the classroom environment.

“It is important to be mindful of what the classroom experience is like,” he said. “Although school psychologists are not in the classroom every day, we work with students and teachers, and it’s important to not lose sight of the context and daily experience of those we support.”    

Niemasik and Rigney — who both want to pursue doctoral degrees — agree that their practicum experiences will be crucial as they progress through the master’s program. Not only are they learning to apply what they discuss in the classroom, but they are also getting closer to their goal of becoming school psychologists.

“This practicum experience provides me with information about the public school system that will prove invaluable,” said Niemasik. “Next year, when I have a larger role at my practicum site, I will need to apply what I have learned.”  

“My pre-practicum experience was my first preview of what is involved in a school psychologist’s day and was a small step toward helping me accomplish my career goals,” said Rigney, who wants to pursue doctoral studies so he can work in the school system, conduct research and effect change in education policy. “Soon, I will not be simply observing, and I am prepared to move on to the next level.”   

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