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Therapy packets help virtual students meet therapy goals at home

Just as student learning environments have changed in the last year, therapy sessions have had to evolve as well. Therapists in Florence 1 Schools are using tele-therapy to meet with students, even creating at-home therapy packets for students who are enrolled in the district’s Virtual Academy.

Shannon Belk, an occupational therapist who has worked in the district for more than two decades, said that sessions this year have been different from any other but they have also allowed her to get to know her students in a new way.

Belk and other therapists within Florence 1 have used a variety of materials to create individualized at-home therapy packets for the students who would not be coming to school for in-person instruction.

“The packets have items like pipe cleaners and little manipulatives to thread on them,” Belk said. “There are also things like Theraputty, bean bags and dry erase boards and dry erase markers. These packets were tailored to what the student’s needs are and what we would be doing during our sessions. I know that I also included some paper activities that we would need to use with the students for things like practice using scissors.”

Florence 1 Schools Occupational Therapy at-home packets

Belk said that she and her fellow therapists realized the need for at-home packets when the district moved to eLearning last school year.

“We really decided when we did eLearning that these packets were necessary and began purchasing items and sending them to students,” Belk said. “So, we knew, going into this school year, that we needed to make these packets available for our students because therapy is so hands-on. We are working on motor control and fine motor skills and that is hard to do entirely on the computer. There are some neat things that you can do on the computer but I prefer doing a mixture because they are on the computer more now and they need to work on some different skills.”

Fine motor skills and core strength are two of the things that students might receive a referral to occupational therapy for, Belk said.

“We get a lot of referrals for handwriting but we aren’t handwriting teachers, and we don’t necessarily work directly on handwriting all the time,” Belk said. “But what might play a part in their difficulties with that is not having the fine motor control and strength to hold a pencil. Some students may have a need to work on their core strength. You have to have that stability before you are able to have the motor skills to use your hands the way they need to be used.” 

Belk said that while it does depend on the specific needs students have, they generally have one tele-therapy session per week. With students learning at home, parents are now able to be in those sessions with them.

Contents of at-home therapy packets

“I think it is beneficial that our virtual students have their parents sitting in the room with them when they are doing these tele-therapy sessions,” Belk said. “We do a report every four and a half weeks but the parents don’t normally get to see what we’re doing. You can’t really understand reading it in a report the way you do seeing it. Another benefit, too, is that they can carry it over at home. We can give them ideas of what to do at home so that students are doing something every day if they can.”   

Belk said that while she originally gravitated toward physical therapy, she always knew she wanted to help people. She said that the re-invention of therapy within the district has strengthened her desire to help her students, even more than normal.

“It has been a real eye-opener because you get a peek into a student’s real world and it is not necessarily the same as what our world might be,” Belk said. “You see them in a different light and it makes you understand more about the child. It really makes you want to do everything you can to help the child.”