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CWU School Psychology Reading Program Boosts Literacy for Kittitas County Youths

A CWU School Psychology graduate student works with a local youth

CWU School Psychology graduate students have been working with Kittitas County youths the past two years to improve their literacy.


Kittitas County grade-school students in search of extra reading help have found a friend in the Central Washington University Psychology department.

Over the past year and a half, the Wildcat Buddies program has paired CWU School Psychology graduate students with elementary-age learners who are seeking to improve their literacy. And now that two years of the program are in the books, the CWU mentors and their youth understudies are already looking forward to next year.

“It has been so rewarding to see the kids’ growth,” said Kylie Melton, a graduate assistant for the program who also served as a mentor last spring. “We have been gathering progress-monitoring data and tracking how much they are growing. The results have been very positive, and it’s been nice to be able to show their parents such amazing progress.”

Nearly 40 elementary-age children have participated in Wildcat Buddies since it was introduced during the 2021 winter quarter, and more kids are expected to join the program next year. Some of this year’s students will continue to work with their CWU tutors this summer so they can maintain their skills edge.

CWU School Psychology graduate student works with a local studentThe tutors—all of whom are studying to become school psychologists—use Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) to evaluate the elementary students’ progress. They examine metrics like phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge, and sight words to determine which areas to focus on during each session.

Some students worked with their tutors for 20 hours this spring, and many of them were outspoken about how much they gained from those interactions.

“The kids all said how much they enjoyed it, and some even said, ‘we love you,’” Melton said. “That means so much to us because a major part of being a school psychologist is relationship-building. Knowing that we are making a difference with these kids is a huge confidence-builder.”

Developing rapport with parents is another critical skill CWU students are learning through their involvement with Wildcat Buddies. Melton noted that you can read about relationship-building and practice those skills in the classroom, but there’s nothing that compares to real-world experience.

“Explaining early literacy can be hard,” she said, “but when we can show kids’ growth in ways their parents can understand, it’s a lot easier to make those connections.”

School Psychology program coordinator Heath Marrs said he and his colleagues have been trying to introduce more “early intervention” training opportunities to their curriculum, with the goal of helping students before skills delays become a barrier to their ability to learn later in life. The pandemic exacerbated these problems for many children, which eventually led to the launch of Wildcat Buddies.

“The past two years presented a number of new challenges, and after talking to parents in this community, we realized we could offer help and guidance for their kids,” Marrs said. “Our goal was to help them as early as possible because that’s what helps them grow. We believe that identifying problems early on and addressing them is the key to future success.” 

Marrs also thanked Associate Professor Richard Marsicano for his contributions to the Wildcat Buddies program and the CWU Reading Intervention Center. Marsicano has integrated the work being done in the center with the academic intervention practicum that he teaches his school psychology graduate students.

Parents who are interested in having their child participate in the program during the 2022-23 academic year may email Marrs at Heath.Marrs@cwu.edu.

Media Contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, David.Leder@cwu.edu, 509-963-1518