CWU News

CWU school psychology program helping districts fulfill growing needs

As school districts around the country scramble to fill school psychologist positions year after year, CWU is looking to ease the burden.

Demand for school psychologists in K-12 districts has increased so much in recent years that the CWU Department of Psychology introduced a part-time summer program in 2017 to train educational professionals who already work full time.

Over the past three years, the CWU summer program has been providing graduate-level courses for educators who may not otherwise be able to participate in year-round graduate studies. When the 2020-21 school year begins, seven of those students will be serving full-time internships with school districts around the state. 

Once they have completed their nine-month internships — the final phase of their four-year commitment — they will be eligible for a growing number of school psychologist positions in Central Washington and across the U.S.

“The summer program has allowed us to train a lot more students than we could when we only offered a year-round graduate degree option,” said Heath Marrs, director of CWU’s school psychology graduate program. “We designed the program to meet the needs of school districts in Central Washington, but also to accommodate educators who wanted to pursue a new career path.”

The seven summer program students are among 18 CWU graduate students who will be working as school psychology interns during next school year. The other 11 students are enrolled in the traditional program on the Ellensburg campus, which requires two years of classroom study plus an internship.

Marrs said the 18 school psychology internships are the most ever for the program. CWU averages about eight to 10 school psychology internships per year, and the previous high — reached in 2003-04 — was 12.

“We’ve been training school psychologists for many years, but what’s nice for us is that we can train even more people now because of the summer program,” he said. “We’re hoping more people consider going into this field when they realize there are other options besides three years of graduate school.”

Before students can begin an internship, they must have completed 300 practicum hours. The internship phase requires 1,200 hours of supervised work with K-12 students, parents, teachers, and school administrators. 

Interns perform assessment activities, such as identifying disabilities; consulting with parents of children who have behavioral difficulties; creating intervention plans for students who are struggling; and working to prevent academic or behavioral problems.

Upon completion of the CWU program, graduates earn an Education Staff Associate (ESA) degree from the state, which allows them to practice in Washington school districts. Because the school is approved by the National Association of School Psychologists, graduates also earn the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential, which makes them eligible for certification in other states, as well as salary bonuses in many school districts.

“Adding the summer cohort has really allowed us to expand our program,” Marrs said. “Many of our students are able to receive supervised training in the school districts where they work, which will allow them to fill positions that are in demand in their own communities.”

Two summer program students will do their internships in Moses Lake, while two others will be in the Tri-Cities. One each will work in Yakima, Wenatchee, and in the Puget Sound area. Students from the traditional track will be in Yakima, Toppenish, Bellingham, among others. This year’s group of 18 interns will graduate in June 2021.

CWU is planning to welcome its second summer cohort later this year, and applications are still being accepted. That group of students will graduate in 2023. Marrs said the summer program has been successful because it allows CWU to help districts that have traditionally had trouble recruiting school psychologists.

“We like that most of our students are from this area and they want to help out in their own districts,” he said. “That’s probably been the most important benefit of this program.”

Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs,