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

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A former teacher in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, native Detroiter Tracy Smith decided she wanted to improve and facilitate student learning in a different way. She chose Wayne State because it offered a great, innovative and comprehensive program and was close to where she lived and worked.

“I was interested in embarking on a new career that focused on helping students who learn differently learn better,” she said. “My major focus is developing the ‘whole child.’ School and community psychology entails supporting all students emotionally, socially and academically.” 

Emily Hall grew up in Mason, Michigan, a small town just outside East Lansing. Her desire to experience life in an urban area — in addition to the university’s reputation — drew her to Wayne State.

“Students are placed in schools during their first semester and become eligible for their TLLP [temporary limited licensed psychologist] when they graduate,” said Hall. “Those aspects attracted me to the program because I wanted to jump in immediately and have the option of being a therapist later down the road. In addition, Wayne State’s school and community psychology program is competitive and reputable, and I am engaging in valuable experiences that will help me get a job.”

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 500-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. 

“Practicum experiences are invaluable for students and help them accumulate foundational experiences while embarking on their journey to become fully-certified school psychologists,” said Lauren Mangus, Ph.D., practicum and internship coordinator and supervisor and assistant professor (clinical) 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.”

Smith and Hall are gaining valuable information and insight into their desired career and are jointly supervised by university faculty and fully credentialed on-site practitioners.

“It is incredibly rewarding and fun to interact with students, but the problem-solving aspect of school psychology sparked my interest in the field,” said Hall, who works with teachers to ensure that classrooms are safe, supportive spaces that are conducive to learning. “School psychologists are like detectives. We work with students, teachers and parents to address challenges that could affect students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach.” 

Smith and Hall agree the practicum is an important component of the master’s program.

During her pre-practicum and practicum, Smith worked with students at Emerson Elementary-Middle and MacKenzie Elementary-Middle schools in Detroit.

“Diversity, multiculturalism and city living are emphasized throughout the entire curriculum,” said Smith. “This provides the rich, robust experiences necessary for me to work with different types of students from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Hall is completing her practicum experience at Berkley High School and Rogers Elementary School in the Berkley School District. She tests students, runs meetings, consults with teachers, conducts individual and group therapy sessions, writes reports and more. Hall said she enjoys the challenge.

“I have gotten a taste of what my internship and professional career will be like,” said Hall. “I will be able to apply what I have learned this year in future roles.” 

Both believe the university’s location is an asset and cannot imagine living and learning anywhere else.

“I love Detroit! I meet so many wonderful, smart people who are really concerned about others and their community,” said Smith. “The students are especially inspirational because, just like a rose that grows from concrete, they continuously epitomize the heart and soul of the city.” 

“I love living in the Detroit area because there is always something to do, and there is so much history in the city,” said Hall. “There is really no place like it.”

For more information about the School and Community Psychology program, visit coe.wayne.edu/tbf/educational-psychology/school-index.php.

by Tracy A. Walker