Related Service Providers Enabling Inclusivity- Carol Conway OTR/L & Rebecca Moscovitz SLP
10:07PM Feb 4, 2023
least restrictive environment
Hello welcome to inclusive occupations, sharing stories of not just being invited to the party but dancing. I'm your host Savitha Sundar, I'm a school based occupational therapist. This podcast is a space for OTs and others who work with children and youth in education to be informed, inspired, and empowered to create an inclusive community for the students they serve.
I met with Carol Conway last September. Carol is one of the founding change leaders of the every moment counts program with Dr. Susan Bazyk. I had heard much about Carol and her inclusion related work at Hudson School District, Ohio and really wanted her to share about it on our podcast. Carol is now retired, but she has been a school based and pediatric OT for four decades, and her enthusiasm for her work is very fresh. To further enrich our show today Carol invited Becca Moscovitz, an amazing speech and language pathologist who worked with Carol at Hudson school district and these two lovely ladies are here to share with us some practical information on how related service providers help enable inclusive spaces for students with disabilities. Let's jump right in to listen to Carol and Becca.
Hello, Carol and Becca, I am so excited to have you on the show today. I have really been waiting for this special interview because I think hearing from related service providers who have actually jumped in and been these agents of inclusion and their school community is something so valuable for our listeners. So before we get started with the interview questions, I would like for you ladies to introduce yourselves.
My name is Carol Conway. I'm an occupational therapist. I have been working in the Hudson School District for 15 years, I just retired this past year I am a been a pediatric occupational therapist for 40 years, and have spent the last bout 32 in the schools. I am one of the original change leaders for the program called "every moment counts" that was designed by Dr. Sue Bazyk and a lot of therapists in practice. And that's me in a nutshell.
Thank you, Carolyn.
My name is Becca Moskovitz. And I am a speech and language pathologist in the Hudson City Schools. I have been working as a pediatric speech and language path for about 18 years, 16 of those being in the Hudson City Schools. And Carol and I have worked together up until this year, in many in many different settings, and one of our most fun settings. and I think the most beneficial for students has been our inclusion and Buddies program. So I'm excited to be here today. Thank you, Becca.
So tell us about your Buddies program, how it started and and where it stands now.
So I'd like to give credit to an intervention specialist, which is what we call special education teachers in our district and maybe in Ohio, who developed a program that she was calling buddies, where she was, she was a teacher for kids with most significant needs from multiple disabilities. And she would have kids at the end of the day from their classroom, their peers come in to her classroom, and they would play games or make crafts. And she called it "Buddies." And once I saw it, I thought wow, what a place for OT to be. And so I invited myself in. And then once I was there, I realized what uh.. how I could do that at lunch and recess. And that at the end of the day was great, but lunch and recess are really important parts of the day, you know, as an occupational therapist, that the meals and playing are such important occupations that are part of school. You want to extend that a little bit.
I also think we kind of piggybacked on that idea because we had started to really try to find ways to work with our kids outside or not just within the walls of our therapy rooms, but outside. And we also talked about and began writing collaborative goals and realizing that social communication and social participation go so well together, and we would write these goals together and then, if we put a Buddies group together at another time, at the end of the day, we were creating, like a false setting almost, you know, a very made up setting. And we realized that if we went to lunch and recess, things that happen everyday, naturally, we don't have to create this environment for the kids. It's just there. And we can work on those parts of our goals in that setting. And it was just it blossomed, and it worked beautifully.
And I want to say that we started our Bbuddies program, probably two, work 12 ... 14 years ago, and we've been doing it for a long time, and it has grown and changed. And of course, it grew and changed with the needs of the students. So it didn't always look the same every year. Some years, we would have multiple groups. And so our, you know, we would lead lunch with a couple of different groups or kids or play with recess with a couple of different groups. And then other years, the needs weren't as high. And so maybe we only had one or two groups.
So you have been doing this for about 14 years. He said,
Yeah, in some capacity. Yes.
Okay. That is, that is really interesting. And back then you you kind of evolved what the teacher had started as a Buddies program, and kind of branched into working with with the kids in their natural contexts, which is recess and lunchtime, and they have their neurotypical peers around them, and you kind of facilitated a more richer social environment. Correct? Sounds like yeah,. That is really nice. So do you provide any kind of training for the buddies?
Yeah, um, so we have a PowerPoint presentation that we developed and tweaked over the years that we will take into the classrooms. So the way our kids are grouped is they're on teams. So there's two or three teachers that have classrooms, and kids with different disabilities are in those home rooms. So the homes in which those those kids are placed, we go into those home rooms, and we share our presentation, and we tell them kind of what we're looking for and buddies. And we do a little teaching on what it means to be a buddy, what it means to be a helper, discussing, everybody's got gifts and challenges that they that they can share with the world. And then we we have some slides about different ways that you can help people and different levels of helping and then we present it as just an opportunity in the classroom, for anybody who's interested to join us. So
it's often and I don't think we start said this in the beginning. But the program that we have mainly worked in is grades three through five, I've extended this into middle school, and it has extended below. But there's the three through five building is where we worked. The program was so successful that it was extended on both ends. But we, it is always a voluntary position in your classroom, and it's considered one of the classroom jobs. So once the kids were heard about bunny buddies, they could sign up to be a buddy. And then what would happen, especially in the beginning years is we get a lot of kids who are interested, especially if it's if they're new to the program. And then we'd have to rotate buddies through. So we found that it was good to at least do it like on a was it a monthly basis that we kind of rotate it because we want the kids to be able to come up and usually buddies met once, maybe twice a week, so it wasn't every day. But just because of our schedules. And and then we would rotate kids through and what we found is we got in fourth grade and fifth grade, we would have kids who would want to be buddies all the time. So we had to take turns and then sometimes they would just show up at our door. And we were like, come on in. So the other thing that we did is that we started sometimes we would have buddies in the cafeteria, but we found that the environment was too loud because we have a very large cafeteria like with over 200 kids. So we couple years it worked like that, but we would move it into a into a smaller classrooms. So it'd be a group of anywhere between like, maybe 1010 to 15 is probably optimal, optimal. Sometimes, you know, when you don't want to turn away a kid who wants to be there up here. So you know, we could have 20
And I think in terms of training, there were some times I think back at the beginning we really thought about some formal training and bringing the kids in and teaching them skills. But because every year Students were so different, the students with special needs, they were so different, and they had different needs to tailor exactly what they needed from their peers was very challenging, because we didn't necessarily know until we saw it happen. And then because our bodies were rotating, it would, it would have been every month, this big training, which we didn't find as beneficial, as in the moment teaching and modeling, and reminding the peers, you know, kind of what their role was, and these natural friendships that would form led us then to provide the training that they needed.
And, you know, there was a lot of social emotional training that was going on in the very beginning about what it is to be a friend. We did the whole idea, like Becca mentioned of like, what are your gifts and challenges? And it wasn't just that our kids with poor neurodiverse had, all the challenges is that we were able to talk about, you know, and kids were able to reflect well, what are your challenges, and so and we had pictures on our slides, and Becca, you could probably talk to who each person was on the slides better than I but you know, we have actors and actresses that all the kids knew that had disabilities, we had athletes with disabilities, and you know, and so people could really see what their strengths were and that this idea that everybody has strengths, everybody has challenges. And that's okay.
That is really nice, how you have this disability awareness kind of woven into the program, starting off with explaining to them about strengths and challenges, and bringing those real life people and, and then educating the kids or training them on maybe their communication, just wondering, so I'm guessing a lot of students or AAC users in your
I would, I wouldn't say a lot, I, we probably have one to four a year, I would say per buddy group. The beautiful thing about our district is that these kids have been together since preschool and kindergarten. So we're not really introducing many kids to other students that they've never met before. It's just a more controlled environment where they can get to know them, I think, on a different level. So they have always been
around with the around each other. So they're not in self contained classrooms. That's my understanding. Correct? Correct. Okay, so they're always together in the same classroom and services are brought into the general education classroom.
So they're not always together. So so all of our kids with disabilities or identified students belong to a homeroom. And then they are included it to the maximum extent possible, and we take that very, like, that's a real important thing for us. We want kids with their peers wherever they can be. Okay, so there may be kids who are getting their math and reading in a small group with an intervention specialist, but then they are included in most other parts of the day. And lunch. And recess is a time that they were always included, but it's usually in a large group. And there wasn't an instruction going on during that time. So our goal is always to have kids in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent possible. And that's why Becca and I felt like it was really important for us to be doing integrating our services into natural service environments, rather than doing any type of pullout services, because we, our job is to help kids participate to the maximum extent possible at school. And we needed to provide our services in the natural environment whenever possible. Of course, it's not always possible. Well, that's always our I always say my first question is, were in the natural on an IEP when I'm thinking about location of services? Where in the natural setting, can I see a student as opposed to oh, I'll see him in a therapy room. We're all seeing them in a pullout session.
You know, it's so it's so diverse across the country, there are some school districts where our philosophy has been OVC to see them in their natural environment, which is their self contained classroom, you know. So, that becomes their, their natural environment and there is little awareness that the least restrictive environment is we have to be striving towards lesser restrictive environments, I think, because otherwise the spirit of LRE is really not implemented in schools. So, so tell us something about how you have looked into evidence behind this intervention, buddies. Theories interventions,
um, Yeah, so I first started, when we first started this work a while back, we started looking at the peer mediator intervention research, which really suggested that it was helpful for kids with disabilities to be with their peers. I think the original reset, or research was done with. With when we're when we were thinking about kids with autism, but I think there's been a lot of research since then, that really supported the use of peer mediated intervention, and as a way to help kids with disability, to learn skills. But what we have found is that, yes, it's really helpful for our peers to teach our kids, but our kids teach the peers so much.
And yeah, I didn't know if you want to speak to that at all. Becca?
I think I think you hit it on on the head, I think I mean, that it's where it stemmed from it was, we had a year where peer mediated intervention was kind of like the topic that was brought into all the staff meetings, and how are we making this happen, and Carol, and I kind of took that idea and found our own, you know, OT and SLP lens, to make to use peer mediated intervention to kind of just turned into this, you know, and incorporate it in our groups.
And so there's been a lot there's other research has certainly supports this inclusive, integrated, natural setting. Work, we know that functional social skills are best learned and practiced in the environment they need them in, as opposed to like in a black setting the 30 minute social, or therapy time, we know that pulling students out of their natural environments is disruptive not only to their academics, but to the social skill development. And there's some interesting research that shows that being involved in a peer lunch group will decrease bullying by both children with disabilities as well as their peers. So that is kind of a also something. If you're interested in bully prevention, having kids do this type of lunch group. There is evidence to support that. And one of the more interesting studies that I found and really touched my heart was one by Milner and Kelly 2009. And they interviewed kids with disabilities or kids who were neuro divergent. And they, these kids were telling us that they feel in, but not school, that they're spatially proximal, but socially distant. And I think we can all relate to feeling in but not of like, you go someplace, and you don't know anyone, and you're feeling awkward, and you just want to leave. And the research tells us that if the kids don't feel part of the school, actual part of the school, it really can undermine their ability to achieve a productive life past high school. I know there's a couple of speech studies too.
Yeah, and Asha, you know, speaks to the importance of and the responsibility of providing services, you know, in the natural setting, and that the ultimate goal is for generalization of skills. And in, in all areas of, at least I can speak to speech and language, you know, you get the skill in an isolated setting, and then generalizing it outside of it just isn't happening. So the research from our, our national organization says, provide the services where the child needs to use it. And then there's some studies that will say that, then they're more likely to use it in other natural settings so that it doesn't need to be taught in each natural setting, but it does teach it in one, they can apply it much more naturally into another setting, as opposed to being in the speech room. And also just remembering the law says least restrictive environment. And when we define least restrictive environment, these are the places that that that would include at lunch and recess.
So there's one other study that I wanted to mention, and it really talks more about recess. And that play, and you know, play is so important, and that they interview kids with disabilities or their divergent students, and they asked him what was so difficult about playing and what was difficult about recess. And they reported gaining entry into play. So knowing how to join people join a game. They also talked, talked about how they want it to be a legitimate participant, as opposed to kind of like, oh, let's just, you have this little role. And it's really not hard. But you're, you know, you're included, but you're really not playing. So they that lack of legitimate participation. And they wanted to develop true friendships. So those are the things that they want. And, and kids practice a lot of that on the playground. And what a better place for OTs and speech therapists to be to develop those skills than on a playground. And the other point about that was that they also reported that they don't want forced participation. So they don't want the adult to kind of take it over and force their participation, but rather teach them how to participate. And so I thought that was really interesting, because I think that's a fine line, because we want to help them but we don't want to help too, too much, which is something we run into in buddies all the time, right?
Oh, yes, yes, we are very helpful. periostin
appears often are more helpful than they need to be wanted, like, kind of take care of as opposed to be a friend of
right. Yeah. Yeah, I can totally relate with what you ladies are sharing, because we've done that in our school as well. And I can kind of like, yes, yes, I know what you're talking about. So excited, like back off.
And when the tracks are, who is attracted to be a buddy are people who are kind and helpful. And so they think that's what the role is. And so that's the, you know, the dance that we play with them. So yeah,
true, true. True. And and just can you kind of like, share how this program is run in the sense like, so how does it typical lunch, a buddy's lunch program look like? Or how does the Reese's look like?
So lunch buddies, I think in its in its truest sense, like when we have a group that's really gelling, and everything is going as, as, as planned as can be for a natural setting, the kids come in to the space that we have provided, and just like they would in the cafeteria, you know, we get them, they sit down, and it's a great place. I can speak for the OT here, I'm not one but for the fine motor piece. Kids can practice opening their own apple sauces, and pulling their own tabs off their soft drinks, in the lunchroom, a lot of times, that's just done for them. So we're there and we can get them all set started there. And then we're modeling that for the peers. And then eventually we can show the peers, you know, here, put their hand here and then let them open it and or wait till he asks you kind of thing and just kind of modeling the skills that we're trying to teach the children so that that's how it starts. And then we often at least at the beginning, we'll have a question of the day, or some kind of sentence starter, to get the ball rolling, to get them talking, and to have turn taking. So some kids are are chattier than others, and they can come up with their own topics of conversation. But a lot of times if we start the conversation with some kind of sentence starter or question of the day, then they get more involved. They see where their similarities line like, oh my gosh, if you had a would you rather and like, I would rather do what this kid does, too. I don't think we had anything in common, you know, it kind of sparked some connections. And then the modeling of the natural skill of cleaning up and transitioning to your next to your next place. It happens so quickly. And in the cafeteria, I think everybody, you know, has a good intent, let's put everybody in a cafeteria and they should just be able to do everything that's expected. But there's so many hidden rules and different skills that they need to do. So in this small environment. Everybody's practicing and modeling all the steps of what lunch includes.
So this small group allows us to kind of slow down the world for us at lunch. It really lets our kids who are slow eaters or who have fine motor challenges, or, you know, some self care kind of challenges, to practice the skill, you know that they need? It. The question of the day is always written on the board when they come in on a whiteboard. And so kids have an opportunity to write their answer. We always laugh because if we're late to or don't have the question up there, like Miss Beko, where is the question, you know, or they'll ask if they could make the question. So it really is a conversation starter for us. And then there are other times where we want to facilitated some more turn taking your conversations, we will, we will do so Some other games like we have a die, where we'll have six questions like 123456. And if they roll a one, they have to answer question number one, and they pass the die. And it's just kind of this idea of getting to know each other, maybe if the creating opportunities for more communication and participation, it's a great place to practice waiting and self regulation. So I would say that's kind of buddies in a nutshell. For lunch.
Yeah, and reset. Yeah, go ahead.
And recess buddies. It can often times it's on the playground. But it could also be in, we have a lot of indoor recess in northern Ohio. So we do have it in we'll do indoor recess games. If we go out into the main playground, it's, it's playing, it's bringing things that kids are interested in. Like, if you bring out a parachute, you'll have a lot of friends come running to play with you. And you don't even have to look for buddies. They want to be part of it. So we know that our buddies and recess time is part of their IEP minutes. So we will want our kids to be part of recess games when whenever we can make it happen. But sometimes, if we're on the playground, we we just let peers come naturally. Because if you have an interesting enough activity, you'll get peers so we might be playing kickball, we play, you know, some of those games that you know, we played growing up like Spud, red light, green light, those kinds of things. Or you might bring an interesting, maybe you just have one child or two children, and you want to have a small group and you just bring out like a game outside. Now inside we play a lot of board games. We do dance parties, like using videos online. We do crafts. And it's usually a lot of fun. I know Abeka. We have found that a lot of kids don't have access to or have not played board games because they do so many more video games. So I know Becca will laugh because our fifth graders love to play Candyland. Right, Becca?
Yeah. I was I was gonna say when you mentioned red light, green light, like just because we're working with third, fourth and fifth graders. There is no game that is too babyish. They would say, you know, they're like, you know, they don't they don't care. They they want to play mother Mae eye and red light, green light, and Candyland. And Chutes and Ladders and
lots now, Rebecca, you did a talk about when we played Spud, and what you did for one of our students who was used to AAC device.
Right? So yes, but I don't know if you've ever played Spud, but it's, it's a game where everybody has a number. And then when your number gets called, the ball gets thrown up in the air, and you need to catch the ball and then everybody freezes, you try to tag them. And so we took the kids into the gym, and we had a student who had very limited AAC, you see, he pushed a button. And so we would pre record numbers one through 10, or however many students we had in there. And then he sometimes with the help of a peer would get to call the number. So he wasn't just watching or somebody wasn't just pushing him around to play the game, he was actively a participant in the game that the game couldn't go on if this child wasn't part of it. So there's always a way to get every level, every skill level involved. That was and then we taught these kids and other games to play outside. So then they could go teach other kids outside to play the game. And then all the students could be involved.
And so an indoor game that we often played was Pictionary. And instead of using the Pictionary cards, because sometimes I felt that those were too difficult, we just made our own. And we often teamed kids with a peer, so so some of our kids who are neurodivergent couldn't really draw or draws well, or needed some ideas. So their peer buddy would kind of give them ideas, or they might draw together. And so we were always finding ways to adapt a game so that everybody's included, everybody's having fun. And this is great during our buddy's time, but like what we find is that because of this exposure, kids are developing true friendships. And, and we see it, you know, we'll see them out on the playground playing together or we'll see them in gym class, or we'll see them you know, sitting with each other at the library because now they know each other and now they're friends
and not just helpers. That's huge. Yeah.
Yeah, that is so so true, because I think authentic inclusion does take into additional effort. And we don't do that. And if you weren't doing this Buddies program I'm imagining recess would be hit or miss, maybe some kids might come and say hi, but most of the kids are going to group up with other kids that their, their level of interest without even giving any opportunity for kids who, who probably don't have the communication skills, or the social skills to express themselves, those kids are definitely going to not have that, that sense of belonging. So I think this is such an important thing. And I also feel like as OTs, we have been so boxed into the fine motor section, right? What is the point on working in fine motor skills, if it's not in a meaningful context? Correct, put into a meaningful context, and you guys are doing just that, and just kind of underlining that ot intervention is so much based on modifying the environment as well as the activity, in addition to just training the kid do develop isolated skills. So
it's funny that you say that, because when they hired me, at Hudson 15 years ago, they said that I remember one principal set saying to me, Oh, you'll probably just do, you're just, you'll just do mainly handwriting. And I'm thinking to myself, Okay, this is where we're starting. And so 15 years later, here's where we are. So just, you know, as OTS we, and I, we have to advocate our scope of practice, you know, and we have to, they don't know what we're supposed to do, we need to advocate what it is, and our role and inclusion and helping kids participate in the maximum extent possible, is so important. There's a quote that I always go back to is that kids don't come to school to receive related services, they come to school to participate, and my job is to help them participate. So you know, we're not medical,
that's the law, right? Something are to enable kids to be in the least restrictive environment, they're not put in a least restrictive environment to get therapy services. So Carol, that is such an important thing you brought out. So true. Yes, yeah. Yeah. So tell me something about how you write the goals for these groups do you have do you base your goals on the the opportunity they have in this environment?
So I wouldn't say that wherever basing our goals because the child's in a buddy's group, I would say we, we collaboratively and often with the intervention specialist, I've worked with the vision specialist and the physical therapists as well, what do we want this child to do? And then, if we want them to, so from a speech and language perspective, if we want them to ask questions or make comments, that's totally something that happens within the buddy setting. If Carol needs to work with OT, for fine motor, then you know that Buddies is going to have an opportunity to Pictionary on the board. So they're going to be able to write. So I wouldn't say that we ever have sat down and said, Oh, we have a kid that's in buddies. Because our IEP is don't say, buddy group, our IEP say, you know, a chance to work in a small group in a general education setting. And then we work on that goal in whatever setting is written on the IEP because the child is not going to be with us forever. The child is going to go on, you know, to another setting, and maybe that that building doesn't have lunchtime, but they have recess. So we've never specified I don't think were like which group, the goal needs to be worked on.
So it sounds like the Buddies program is more like one of the tools you use to address the goals. Right? Yeah. The therapeutic environment for helping them achieve those goals that they can, you know, they can master in different environments, because there's so much engagement built into the Buddy Program.
And buddys is often not the only place we will see a student, it's like one of the places that we will address their goals. And, and people are like, well, you know, it looks like you're doing the same thing. And again, so we often say Well, I'm working a little bit more on social participation, which has a huge piece of self regulation and sensory to it. And and Becca's working a little bit more on social communication, and so they it overlaps, but it's not the same. So we might have an overarching goal together, but maybe the objectives might, she might be doing objective one and I might be doing two or three or, you know, go ahead.
Yeah, well, a lot of times a goal. We would title it something like social committee Keishon and participation, and then the goal might be something like when working in a group with another student, this student will engage for five minutes in an activity. And then my goal might be the student will ask two questions per session and Carol's might be, the student will take turns, or remain
serial or remain on task or he'll
and then that we would just attach to whichever objectives were ours. And the time together is invaluable like to be working on it at the same time. It's not necessarily written that we have to, because maybe one year, it just doesn't work that it's all at the same time. But if we do, it's like bonus, you know, yeah.
Isn't the center. So? Yes, that's all that matters, right? When we write our goals, we want to put that child in the center doesn't matter whose goal it is. But we want to make sure that we're all kind of transdisciplinary ly working on these.
Right, and the gift for us, and because we work in a district, and like so often I'm co teaching with Baca, but we also might be co teaching with intervention specialists, not always in buddies. But they are always invited, and so are the counselors. But it's that, because I spent so much time and a co teaching model. I am, I've become a mini person who can sports, you know, speech and communication. And she is become you heard her talk about fine motor and some of the things that are doing so so that it's such a win win for the child to be able to have skilled people working across environments. Totally. And
I think, yeah, and a lot of times the paraprofessionals will join us. And then I think that is invaluable, because then we are modeling our area of expertise for that person. And then the best paraprofessionals that we have, we hear our words coming out of their mouths throughout the entire day, because those people are with our children all day long. We hear the students using the words that we use to prop them. And it's awesome. And then the child is getting therapy. Not really therapy, but all day long. Yeah, they don't need to be with us.
Yeah, yeah. So. So what so
the other important thing I wanted to mention about lunch buddies is that we eat with children. So we don't stand above them. So when we're sitting at a table, the adults or even the pair of professionals, even if they don't have, it's not their lunchtime, we have everybody sit together even if they bring a little bit of a snack so that it's it's a mealtime. It's a mealtime that shared. And it's a different feeling than when you have adults standing over you. So it's more of a, you know, something that you might experience at home, maybe it's a little more and more natural. And I feel like we build a different kind of relationship that way.
So has Have you followed through to see how they were moving on to middle school and high school, those relationships continue.
Quite often, quite often they do. And Carol got to spend last year working in the middle school so she could see some of our hard work and how it carried over. I do think it's very cool. And here, I'll let you speak a little bit more to it. But there was a student who was a buddy, who, when she was in middle school, I believe, heard about a program called our time to shine, which is a theater program, where you pair students of different levels together to create a musical theatre production. And she brought it to the staff and she found them a sponsor, I can't remember the term, but you know, somebody to help put it on. And it's a thriving program at the middle school now and she was one of our buddies.
That is sowing the seed right? You sow the seed in elementary, and here goes this agent of inclusion who went off to middle school and expanded on it. So
now High School Club, and the club is run. They have a whole day of officers and everything. And it's really interesting, so many of our kids who are at risk, who we would be considered tier two students, students who are at risk, make our best buddies, because they need a place to belong. And I have not been identified as needing special services but we know that they are either receiving kind of an RTI versus some support. But what we have found is our tier two students make our best buddies and this one young girl who wasn't buddy went into the high school and she was more student At risk, and was very overwhelmed with a very large high school. And she was very overwhelmed with starting out as a freshman and didn't belong anywhere. And we know, the research tells us that students need at least one place to belong. And she was invited to come to our time to shine the drama club. And she thrived there. And then as she and her junior and senior year, she was actually an officer there. So it was, you know, again, so it helps our kids who are neurodivergent, but it really helps all students, you know, we are creating compassionate, empathetic students. And we start with buddies. What we see in middle school is there are we do some lunch programs, Middle School is a different animal, because the scheduling is really challenging. But by the time we get to high school, we have that club, we have a video club, but one of the OTS started. And again, kids just want to be friends with our kids that are neurodivergent, because they've been exposed, they've been around, they know how to do it. We also have a program called sparkle cheer, which is a national program that I heard about. And I actually told one of the high school teachers, this is a fabulous program, but I really don't have any time to help you, but look into it. And so somebody else picked up the ball. And we, in our district at home football games we have kids with and without disabilities cheering side by side, each neurodivergent student has a cheer mentor, they get their lockers decorated, they go to all the you know, things that the cheerleaders go to. And they also do it for basketball too. So for basketball, and football. So what we've seen in this 10 years of really working toward inclusive services and integrating our services into natural times of the day is, we really have seen a change in our culture of our kids. Belonging
does making me so emotional, because this is this is just such a huge possibility for our kiddos. You know, they are, they have such a valuable role in the school community. But sadly, they have been, this opportunity has been missed out. And they've been out in the margins, never included and just giving, giving this opportunity for so many students to thrive and to shine. You know, we were taking that away by sick by segregating these kids into self contained classrooms when it's you know, and when you have all these resources, you have all these therapists, so many hours are going to pull out handwriting sessions and pull out fine motor sessions. And we're experts in handwriting, we didn't, that wasn't taught to us in OT school at all, right? Along the way, we have deviated and become boxed into these roles, and it's high time we move on and add value add these rich experiences into the lives of our students. So So what are some obstacles and barriers you have experienced in this program?
Well, you just spoke to one of them is standing. And so that need to always advocate for what our scope of practice is. And
and the other one, I think, is scheduling. And I don't understand why OTS in particular are not in on the playground and not
in lunch rooms, because those are such natural settings. So I feel like some of that is just knowledge, we just got to get the word out. And we have to it's kind of like the whole thing with OTs and mental health in schools, like people not knowing that we support mental health. You know, it's just really, for us advocating scope of practice.
And, and I think along those same lines, buy in from the other people involved. Like I mentioned the paraprofessionals for a lot of students, we need them in there, you know, especially some of students who have more more challenges, physical challenges, but if they don't understand what the goal is, and what we're trying to do, and that it's not just a social hour for adults to talk, or something like that. There's not the buy in of how important the time is. And it's not just oh, we're gonna miss buddies today, no big deal. No, like, that's an important by law, that's our time that these students need to be getting the services. So I think that is also a barrier.
And I just think the whole I think buying is such an important part point, Becca, I really do because you know, even from other therapists this idea that you see kids at lunch and recess that you spend time planning for it because it's so important. And people are worried about their handwriting minutes. Or, you know, or, or don't want to give up lunch or recess. And we always say we love eating with our kids, because we have a contract that guarantees us a 30 minute lunch. So with we that's worked for us, and then we get an extra 30 minutes later. Where was our date? No, we could plan or Yeah, and
I think some years a barrier might be the students that the peers quite, quite often and the students who this is the service for some years are better than others. Some students that works better for them, some are ready for buddies, some are not. And because we do the rotating thing, you know, some months are better than others. And the overwhelming, right, like so sometimes it could become more of a problem because the kids are learning it buddy, so and so opens my dream for me. Yes, I was gonna have so and so opened my drink every week, you know, like, right. So we do really try to teach you're not teaching your
kids that coming kind of ballsy and taking on this like, I am a little above you. And here I am. You gotta listen to me kind of attitude. Have you seen that happen?
Sometimes, but I don't think those are the ones that stay. Yeah. I not not by our choice. I think you eventually find the ones that want to be there. And, you know, it's a lot of times just, it just happens. I mean, we didn't have to try.
Yeah, yeah. So if you were to leave our listeners as a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist, and I think you've kind of spoken about these, like, if you were to give a final takeaway for our listeners, what would that be? A good one.
I guess you know, I have kind of said it. But I really like I would like OTS in particular, to advocate for your scope of practice, I would like for you to try a small group at lunch, or at recess. Personally, I find lunch a little bit easier, unless it's a small group, indoor recess groups. The playground for me sometimes is a little challenging, but sometimes it's where my kids really need to be. But I guess it's like to think outside the box, I will tell you that. Personally, the time that I have spent integrating my services, co teaching and focusing on inclusion have been the best part of my job. And I have always loved my job. This part has been amazing.
I always tell the students to and when we're doing the digital presentation, I say this is the best part of my, my job is what I'm telling you about right now. And I think it's not just great for the kids, like we said, but for all of the adults. Over the years, as a speech therapist, I have become more of just another teacher in the building than that special teacher that some kids go to. Kids say hi to me that I'm supposed to know their name, because maybe they've been a buddy for a while. And, you know, they know us. And, and they and it creates a better culture in the building completely. Because of this one little thing that we we tried to do 12 years ago, and it just grew. So it it's a win win win win for everybody.
So true, so true. And it kind of makes the path for full, meaningful inclusion, right, all these efforts that you have, that you're taking. So thank you so much, Carolyn Becker. This was very, very nice. And I'm sure a lot of people aren't going to have have some thoughts to put into action.
And and I think the work that you're doing is so important and so, so needed, so keep it up. Thank you