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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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News and Events
News and Events

JEP and occupational therapy — New mini courses
May 8, 2014

JEP pilots its first semester introducing OT mini courses with great response from students

Academics and Courses Chan in the Media Community and Partners Health and Wellness Students

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By Madison Aguirre MA ’14/USC JEP Newsletter

April marks the start of OT Awareness Month. But, what is OT? As a second-year master’s student in USC’s Division of Occupational Science (OS) and Occupational Therapy (OT), I am quite familiar with this question. According to USC’s Division of OS and OT, the purpose of occupational therapy is to optimize people’s engagement in the ordinary and extraordinary activities of daily life. Participation in these activities, or occupations, affects a person’s well-being and life satisfaction. Occupational Therapists (OTs) enable people, regardless of gender, age, health, culture, religion, and capabilities, to participate in the activities they find meaningful. OTs work in almost limitless contexts and environments; my particular interest lies in school-based practice.

One of my courses last fall focused on developing a proposal for a community-based program. As someone who is passionate about education, JEP was an ideal place to begin research. After a semester of gathering information on developing a thorough OT curriculum at JEP, I was offered the opportunity to implement it. This spring, ten students from undergraduate OT courses signed up for a JEP mini-team. Once a week, each of three teams brings OT-informed lessons to a 1st, 2nd, and 7th grade classrooms. JEP’s service-learning approach, combined with the diverse field of occupational therapy, provides an enriching learning experience for all involved.

Service-learning requires students to apply academic learning to meeting the real needs of a community, and to reflect on that process. At the start of the semester, my students were unsure how occupational therapy related to primary education. The new Common Core State Standards provide benchmarks for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics, but definitely no guidance about OT. The students were faced with a challenge, how can teaching about occupational therapy address the Common Core? The JEP students soon discovered that OT concepts — the importance of play and creativity, and the impact of occupation on health and wellness — can inform a variety of activities designed to meet the standards. For example, the mini-teams learned to avoid lecturing about OT’s definition of “play,” and instead used play as a method for exploring new concepts. In one classroom, 1st graders drew examples of activities they enjoy now, and chose a costume to represent their future occupations.

The students were very excited to use their imagination and dress in whatever way they wanted. Participating in this playful and creative activity not only educated students about the significance of occupation, but it also strengthened skills related to the Common Core. As for the JEP students, they witnessed the power of creativity as a tool for encouraging students to participate in learning. The mini-course students who wish to pursue a career as a school-based therapist, will now have one technique for motivating a student to successfully access their education.

In short, school-based practice supports children in fulfilling their various roles as a student. A major aspect of the student role is the ability to stay seated and pay close attention. However, this skill does not come easily to everyone. With this in mind, one mini-course designed a lesson around how emotions and the arousal system affect the occupation of learning. In order to simulate this concept, students rotated through various visual, tactile, and olfactory sensory experiences. Toward the end of the activity, both the JEP team and 2nd graders discussed how sensations may elicit feelings of alertness or relaxation. The students learned about basic physiological responses, but more importantly, identified strategies to maintain focus, or relax in school. The JEP students used course material to examine the impact of sensory experiences on children in a school environment. Combining real-world experience with lecture material was far more advantageous for the JEP students than reading alone. In terms of my own service-learning, the opportunity to test and reflect on intervention strategies prior to starting practice is incredibly beneficial to my development as a future school-based practitioner.

The last crucial feature of successful service-learning requires students to reflect on their experiences. This assessment method compels students to develop a deeper understanding of occupational therapy, while constructing their own meaning of the experience. Observations capture the JEP students’ ability to lead, build rapport, and engage their audience; however, reflective assignments give me access to each student’s internal transformation. The greatest amount of change between essays occurred in students’ personal goals, and their understanding of their role as an OT student. Some answers revolved around emphasizing the importance of occupation, others focused more on personal growth. While reading the second reflective essays, I noticed one freshman student, Allie, decided to redefine her role. Allie found her new place as “a secondary character that points [students] toward the end goal — their understanding of the great value of participating in enjoyable occupations, and their understanding of their own capacity to become something great.” Allie’s self-discovery was made possible by participating in JEP, and truly embodied the spirit of OT. Central to occupational therapy is the belief that people are the protagonists of their own lives. OTs do not do things for other people, they enable people to do for themselves. Thoroughly adopting this value is impossible without a connection to real-life experience. Occupational therapy is about serving others, and is best understood, while serving others. JEP afforded the OT students an invaluable approach to learning, and I am grateful for their support. For my students and me, JEP is not an obligation, but a meaningful occupation.