Guest post by Michele Morgan, OT MAEd
from the Creative Occupations blog
Today we are honored to share a guest post by Michele Morgan, a School Occupational Therapist from Michigan. Michele has been able to expand her school practice into unique areas of machining and urban farming, among others, to address the pre-vocational needs of her students. I know you will enjoy reading about her motivation, process, and outcomes. Take it away, Michele!
As a school-based OT serving as a transition coordinator I am acutely aware of the challenges facing my students after they age out of special education programming. For OT’s working in elementary and middle schools, pre-vocational and soft skill development needs to be addressed alongside sensory processing, motor, and visual- perception goals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.1 percent of individuals with disabilities are employed compared to 64.6 percent of the employment-population ratio without a disability. In an income driven economy, many of my students are competing for jobs with pacing and productivity demands beyond their capabilities both emotionally and physically. I feel an obligation to take an active role in training my students for viable non-traditional employment pathways with an emphasis on micro-enterprise. I am an OT- not a machinist, coder, programmer, farmer or woodworker. To create this type of program I needed to figure out how to understand and teach complex topics and weave them into my practice. That journey led me back to good old activity analysis.
To get off the ground, my colleague and I dug out our faded copy of uniform terminology and created an analysis of the steps required to turn and finish wood. To our delight, we discovered a treasure trove of sensory, motor, and perceptual connections, direct applications to academic concepts, and pre-vocational skill development. Students embraced the program, our math teacher appreciated the direct connections to classroom concepts, and the community supported our efforts by purchasing student made pens. Proceeds from sales of the pens were directly applied to the purchase of a CNC router. With no prior experience in programming or machining, we deconstructed the activity into its component parts, observed local machinists in the field, and repeated that process for 7 years. We added a laser engraver, vinyl cutter, 10 needle CNC embroidery machine, arduino microcontrollers to teach foundation skills in prototyping, snap circuits to increase accessibility to machines, and a commercial sandblaster (for details check out next month’s post on my blog). The same strategy was used to develop an urban farming program with emphasis on breeding and hatching quail, breeding and selling worms, animal-assisted therapy, and an aquaponics program. The best recent development is the expansion of our traditional OT program into a 4 week summer program for at-risk youth who are not eligible for OT services during the school year but who demonstrate significant barriers to competitive employment. These students can now slide into apprenticeship programs and direct employment with an OT designed and managed training program!
Perhaps the process of transforming employment opportunities for our students begins with expecting more from yourself and your programming. Break down a task that seems out of reach, assemble a team that supports your vision, and prepare for your students and clients to exceed your expectations.
Here are 6 steps to consider once you find your “shoot for the moon” idea:
- Print a copy of uniform terminology to isolate functional, academic, pre-vocational benefits. Be prepared to “sell” this idea to administrators and funding sources by clearly articulating how this project will positively impact your school culture, local community and students. Think beyond reaching the goals of individual students.
- Assemble a team. Find team members who “complete” you. Think outside of your therapy world. If you are writing documentation, you can write grants. If you’re an extrovert, explore marketing, sales, and developing partnerships with local businesses. If you’re more of an introvert, select a partner who fills that role. Grants designed for teachers may cover occupational therapists in educational settings.
- Find an initial funding source. Divide and conquer. Write a grant for a portion of your project and ask a school group to pitch in for the balance. If you’re creating something that can be sold, offer your items to supportive organizations when they need to build fundraising baskets. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s in it for them from the beginning. They all want to know.
- Connect with the media. Start local with high school TV-production classes or on-line high-school journalism classes. They can provide documentary style footage and photography you can use in presentations or on YouTube (Check out Pepper our therapy bunny at 6:37! Filmed by 1st year TV production classes). Local newspapers love a good collaboration between therapists and businesses or general education students. If your items land in retail outlets, television stations will often come out to highlight student work. You need to promote your work and ask print and news media to cover your story. Don’t wait to be discovered.
- Name your program and get out there with your project and message. Speak at local community colleges, professional development sessions and state conferences.
- Consider becoming a level II fieldwork site for OT’s or OTA’s to manage your growth and share your expertise.
Michele Morgan has been an OT for 21 years in a variety of settings including early intervention, mental health, outpatient, skilled nursing, and acute care. For the past 11 years, she has provided services at the elementary and high school level. Along with her colleague, she has provided professional development sessions for local school districts, and provided presentations at the community college and university level as well as special education conferences. Student made work from her department’s technology driven industrial-arts program is currently in 8 retail locations throughout Michigan with items shipped internationally as far as Australia, Italy, and Germany. The urban farming program boasts a variety of worms, bred and sold to area feed and pet stores. The program has been featured in the Detroit News, on WXYZ Channel 7, and in “Advance for OT”. The program was recognized as 2017 Entrepreneurial classroom of the year by the Council for Exceptional Children. Michele enjoys grant writing, re-purposing, and collaborating with individuals passionate and optimistic about reconstructing employment models for a non-traditional workforce. You can connect with Michele on Twitter @MicheleMorganOT on her blog at creativeoccupations.wordpress.com and at wwtot.weebly.com