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Advocating for TR in the Schools: Highlights of a Member's Journey

Posted by Rebecca Cole-Zimmer on 2017-11-09

I would like to share some highlights from the year long journey towards bringing Therapeutic Recreation (TR) as a profession into the school setting.  Last fall I had the opportunity to introduce TR into the school where my children attend. The principal at this school saw the value and was very interested in learning more about the profession. This led to a discussion about the process & viability of offering TR as an intervention within the school system.

As a professional member of Therapeutic Recreation Ontario (TRO) I am committed to advocating for the profession whenever possible in work and social settings. I have been in private practice for 15 years serving the Niagara community, and I often talk to people about the emerging field of TR. This is what happened at the school where my children attend. The principal was interested to learn that recreation and leisure pursuits can be therapeutic, and that client (student) specific interventions can be designed addressing the needs and interests of clients within the context of their environment to allow people to achieve goals.

Last year during the Ontario elementary teachers’ work-to-rule campaign, I had the opportunity to provide TR services for students within the Niagara Catholic District School Board (NCDSB). This experience allowed me to see there was a distinct need for TR professionals in the school system. I continued to have a dialogue with the principal at the school where I had some connections and she informed me of a committee called SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) whose mandate states that every student is entitled to a program that meets his or her needs. I was encouraged to approach the school board SEAC committee to introduce TR as an intervention for their students. SEAC consists of representatives from Autism Ontario, Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara Region (LDANR), Pathstones Mental Health, Community Living, Down Syndrome –Caring Parents, the Tourette Syndrome Association of Ontario, and Niagara Children’s Centre. All of these agencies help form the direction of service interventions for students in the NCDSB.

At this point I wrote a letter of introduction and intent to the NCDSB, and reached out to Jackie Frail, R/TRO (my professor at Niagara College) and Amanda Parent, R/TRO, CTRS the TRO Communications Coordinator to work collaboratively on a professional presentation advocating for TR services within the school setting. I really wanted to make a strong advocacy presentation knowing there would be representatives from various agencies.  After many follow up phone calls where I continued to build a rapport and liaise with the school board I finally had the opportunity to talk with the Superintendent of Special Education who put our presentation on the agenda for an upcoming meeting. When we finally got the invitation to the SEAC meeting Jackie and I worked to create a presentation that would highlight the benefits of TR programing within schools. We used their special education document “Building Bridges 2016” to gain an understanding of their goals, and vision for special education. We discovered the Ontario's Well-Being Strategy for Education: Promoting Well-Being in Ontario's Education System initiative produced by the Ontario Ministry of Education and tied in the all this information together highlighting specific ways TR could enhance the lives of the students. We were able to explain that TR interventions are a systematic process based on the intervention plan for both Individuals and groups addressing the needs and interests of clients within the context of their environment.

The Unique Role Recreation can Play in Special Education Service

The presentation was received enthusiastically by the SEAC committee, they even invited us to join them at the table as a member of the SEAC committee. They were excited to learn about existing services like the Niagara College sensory room, they were open to the idea of TR students completing placements in their schools and were interested in learning how to access services.

In conclusion it was exciting to be able to bring an awareness of TR to a wider audience within the Niagara region through involvement with just one principal. The door is now open to continue the conversation about TR as a valuable intervention building on the strengths of the students to increase wellbeing and educational success.  Though it took a long time from the initial introduction to the final presentation, I am excited to have been able to inform key stakeholders about TR and would encourage others to do the same and see where it leads.  I appreciated the support of both Niagara College and TRO for providing resources and guidance in reaching out to members of my community in an advocacy role.

 

Are you interested in advocating for TR in your local school? Reach out to TRO for resources and support at: info@trontario.org