At the Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology, O'Reilly develops innovative student-oriented programs and has the chance to work with children and the community more often than the typical school psychologist. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are generally controlled in-house by the school and not by a local school district--operating more like a private school than a traditional public school.
Career Path: Last year, O'Reilly began her role as a special education coordinator at Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology, a charter middle school for low-income and urban students in Paterson, N.J. O'Reilly has a master's in educational psychology and her certification in school psychology from Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J. She is a third-year school psychology doctoral student at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University.
O'Reilly also drew from her school psychology training to write "Peter Can't Eat Peanuts," a self-published children's book due out this fall about the dangers of food allergies. She wrote it in response to her own son's peanut allergies.
Work schedule: O'Reilly conducts psychological evaluations, counsels students, develops programs to meet the needs of general education and special education students, consults regularly with teachers, designs pre-referral interventions and talks with parents about how to advocate for special services for their child. O'Reilly also conducts in-service training for teachers by translating psychological research into lay terms, such as explaining research on inclusion models and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. As a coordinator, O'Reilly also interacts with students and administrators at the state level, which is not typical of the traditional school psychologist's position.
Best part of her job: "Ninety percent of my time is spent getting to know the students," O'Reilly says. She found that in more traditional school psychology jobs she spent more time on paperwork than with students.
Also, she enjoys being able to develop innovative programs for students. For example, she used her original dissertation idea as a pilot program on vocabulary acquisition. In the program, students learn a new word each week, apply it to a sentence and make up a rap song with that sentence. By the end of the year, they turn the words they've learned into a complete rap song and compete against other classes.
Salary: $53,000 for working four days a week during the school year. Charter schools operate on their own pay scales, independent of the larger school districts, so pay can range according to the discretion of the school.
How you can get her job: O'Reilly strongly recommends jobs in charter schools because the environments are smaller and, therefore, "there is less red tape to work through. At these start-up schools, teachers often are more amenable to working with psychologists," O'Reilly says. "You have a place to really showcase your knowledge."
To find a charter school, she recommends visiting your state's Department of Education Web site for your local charter school database as well as the National Charter School Clearinghouse Web site at www.nationalcharterschoolclearinghouse.net. She also recommends taking an education law course in graduate school because in charter schools, your responsibility as a psychologist will likely be broader than the traditional consult, test, place and counsel model.