Building a knowledge foundation is so important for children, and here in District 64, we’re fortunate to have occupational therapists (OTs) who help ensure that students and teachers have access to instruction and can successfully navigate tools to access their school environment.
“We want to make sure that all kids have access to instruction before we would ever make a determination that they need more intensive services or support,” said Director of Student Services Alicia Schmeisser.
Our Lead Occupational Therapist, Pamela Lemperis, invited us along to see how her team accomplishes this in classrooms. For this presentation, Lemperis was set up in Christina Carfagnini's Kindergarten Classroom at Carpenter Elementary School.
Some of our District’s youngest learners eagerly sat on the floor as Lemperis went over the three things they were going to talk about and review. The fine motor presentation includes how to sit at a desk/table, hold a pencil, and use scissors.
“We went over these developmentally appropriate skills that kindergarten to first grade should be acquiring at this point,” said Lemperis. “There’s a lot of body mechanics that go into positioning and proper alignment. It not only tells their brain that they’re ready to work, but their whole body is ready to produce the output in the right way.”
The students were eager to show off their writing skills and they began by indicating which hand they used to write with. Lemperis then demonstrated the proper way to hold a pencil with a smile, making it look so easy. The students sat at their tables with beaming faces, holding a pencil in one hand, and Lemperis walked around the room offering help and tips.
“I think it’s really important for everybody to have the same information all at once, especially our kindergarteners coming to school, sometimes for the very first time, ” Lemperis passionately explained. “Some kids have been exposed at preschool already, so they’ve had some instruction on it, but I feel like it’s really important to get everyone having the same knowledge foundation.”
“They’re all starting from the same point,” said Schmeisser. “They understand that this is how I need to sit, this is how I need to hold the pencil, and that’s the best universal thing that we can do. Because then, if a kid ever needs more support or additional support, we’ll know that we did provide that initial instruction for everybody”
“If students need more intensive support or they need more specialized services regarding things they’ve already heard and learned, then we need to pursue something that’s more intensive to support their needs,” said Schmeisser.
The entire school community benefits from these types of support. D64 has one OT for every two buildings in the district. “Our ability to consult and collaborate with all teams across the building is so great,” said Lemperis. “Having that relationship, that support, that foundational knowledge of it’s all getting out there to everyone, and if a teacher or student needs a next level of support, we are there. We have resources, can provide different tools and strategies on a consultative basis, and we’re also in the buildings as well.”
“We just are lucky to have this built-in support here in District 64,” said Schmeisser.