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    Anyone who works in a school, or with children in general, could tell you that kids have a seemingly limitless amount of energy. They are always ready to run around, go from one task to another, and then run around some more. While it’s great that they are so energetic, it can make it difficult to sit and focus in school. School days can feel long for students, especially when they are fighting the urge to move their bodies because they’re supposed to be sitting at their desks doing work.

    There is no getting around having to sit and get work done in school, but classroom teams do work hard on being able to provide movement breaks for their students to make the day move along smoothly while also giving kids a good outlet for their energy. Part of our role is to help students balance getting their work done, getting the energy release they need, and making sure their sensory needs are met. One of the many benefits of working as classroom teams is that we have a lot of options at our disposal to make sure our students get what they need.

    Physical Education classes throughout the week are a huge help and a great outlet for their pent-up energy, as well as outdoor recess and time for walking the track when the weather permits it. Outside of those designated scheduled activities, however, staff offer their students a variety of other options when they start getting jittery in their seats.

    A popular option is a “Shake Break”, which usually takes place at the end of one activity before starting the next one. This kind of movement break is usually accompanied by music or videos from either YouTube or GoNoodle, and the videos are created specifically with movement breaks in mind--they include dance videos, and even short guided exercise videos. There is a large selection, and if you were to ask each classroom, they would be able to tell you which videos are their students’ favorites, as the kids probably have all of the words and dance moves memorized. It’s a fun break that gives students a few minutes to get up and dance it out before transitioning into another work activity.

    Something else that is offered to our students is the chance to walk laps in the hallway. Some students walk their laps independently, and others walk with one of their classroom staff. Walking laps is a good option for students not only to be able to get up and move around, but if they’re feeling overwhelmed in the classroom, or just need a break from their current task, they can ask a teacher to go with them for a walk to help reset themselves and get ready to finish their work. If they’re upset about something, it gives the student a chance to talk with their staff about what is bothering them, as well as giving them a little break from the situation. Walks in the hall also give students a chance to socialize with others who aren’t in their classroom, this includes both staff and other students, so it’s beneficial on multiple fronts.

    Teachers and teaching assistants work in conjunction with a team of physical and occupational therapists, as well as behavior specialists and the PE department to brainstorm ideas when students have specific movement and sensory needs. Some students have extra movement times built into their schedule, times when they can go and use the school’s fitness room to run on the treadmill or use the stationary bikes. Other students may use a yoga/exercise ball instead of a chair because it allows them to have more movement, and some rooms also have rocking chairs that students can use to help regulate their sensory needs. We also have students who enjoy using exercise trampolines for their movement breaks, so after completing a work activity they bounce on the trampoline for a couple of minutes to move around and then they’re able to sit and focus on their next task.

    A large part of the school day is about academics, reaching goals, and learning new skills. However, making sure that a student’s physical and emotional needs are met is just as important as any math or literacy lesson. Our staff works together to make sure that students have as many energy outlets, and as many ways to meet their sensory needs as possible. Finding positive ways for students to let their energy out is not only good for their physical and mental well-being, but it sets them up to be able to focus better on their schoolwork. Giving students options, rather than just trying to make them sit in their seats for the entire school day, works out better for everyone.

 

    Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t speak for the rest of the day. How would you get your wants and needs met? How would you tell others how you’re feeling? How would you share your individuality with the world? Now imagine that you can’t use words to communicate for the rest of your life. Or, imagine that you can speak but nobody understands your language. This is the reality for many people that we support here at Wildwood Programs. Without a way to effectively communicate, our little wants and needs get lost as well as our big advocacy efforts. These are the reasons that Wildwood has created a multidisciplinary team known as our Communication Task Force.

    The group was born from the recognition of how many barriers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are up against every day. Traditionally, people with communication needs receive tremendous amounts of support during their school years from speech and language teams, such as the incredibly talented and dedicated speech department that we have at our school. However, as students transition to adult services, there tends to be fewer of these supports. Our Direct Support Professionals are highly skilled at communicating with the people that they support, but there's always room for growth. The Communication Task Force seeks to empower our agency to recognize more forms of communication and put into practice effective and evidence based strategies to improve the communication skills of those that they support.

    Our first stop? We have created a training program called Breaking Down Communication Barriers. This training will be part of the DSP Bootcamp that is going live in January. This will be the first step at providing knowledge and practical skills to enhance the lives of the people we support here at Wildwood. 

    The Communication Task Force wants to be an integrated part of the life of all those who work at, and receive supports from, Wildwood Programs. We will continue to assess what needs the agency has, as well as where strengths lie. We want to tap into the knowledge base we already have as an agency and then push ourselves to learn more, think more, and do more.  When we enhance communication, we enhance advocacy and we enhance quality of life. We reduce frustration and challenging behaviors. We learn more about each other. We celebrate what makes each of us unique. 

    We can strive towards those goals together, but we need your support. We need your feedback, your thoughts, and your expertise. Please reach out to our committee at any time with questions, ideas, and feedback. We can’t wait to hear from you and learn with you! 

You can reach us at any time at:

info-communicationtaskforce@wildwoodprograms.org

BE FAIR TO DIRECT CARE!! 

Jesse and I were recently discussing his role as an advocate recently when we met.  He takes his role as an advocate for himself and for other people with disabilities seriously. He knows that with a swipe of a politician’s pen, life for him and others can change in an instant. It is why making his voice heard is not something he does only on occasion or during the budget process, it is something he tries to build into his life. 

“'Be Fair to Direct Care!’ has been our motto for years,” Jesse said. “We can’t keep having such turnover. We need funding to support us and our staff.”

The advocacy has made a difference. Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced that $1.5 billion has been earmarked to support the careers of direct support professionals. This money will support recruitment and will pay incentives to keep and reward long-term staff.  There is also a plan to give bonuses  to staff who have gotten vaccinated.  

“I’m mighty glad Governor Hochul did this,” Jesse said. “I don’t want my staff to leave their jobs and find other jobs in the community that pay more. People with disabilities are glad. We’re happy the staff that support us are being respected for their work.”

Jesse was part of a team that started a campaign that involved letter-writing, phone calls and in-person visits with legislators.

“Governor Hochul listened to us through our letters, phone calls and advocacy with our legislators. Each method of education and advocacy was impactful,” Jesse said.

The self-advocates know the work isn’t over and that advocacy is a life-long process. This victory is proof of what can be accomplished when people put their voices together.

“I want to thank Governor Hochul.  She cared,  listened and took action.   This is a great first step. We have to keep the momentum moving,” Jesse said.  "Keep up your advocacy, please and thank you!"

    It's that time of year when families and friends get together. Whatever your holidays bring, most likely it will include family friends you don't know so well, or kids of friends or even your niece or nephew who are home from college. There are those uncomfortable moments when you don't know what to say. I say -- talk about Wildwood and the employment opportunities we have! 

    Why? Because we all benefit from having great employees who stick around.  The fact remains true, even today, with the job apps and career tech, that the  best way to attract reliable employees is word of mouth. We are a great company to work for! However, as the recruiter it’s my job to say that. It’s so much better when you, as a member of the community, say it. 

    How do you do this? It will probably come up more naturally than you think. For example, if the conversation turns to, The Great Resignation, there’s an in! Maybe mention how flexible Wildwood has become regarding shifts and how we value the idea of promotion from within.  

If you hear someone saying nobody wants to work anymore!  You can say that’s because they aren’t working for Wildwood! Okay, that sounds a little contrived, but you get the point. Talk us up!

Some conversation starters: 

  • You can talk about Wildwood Programs as being an entree into the Human Services industry

  •  You can talk about how that  local college student can get a per diem DSP; Comm Hab; Respite or even part -time Teacher’s Assistant position. 

  • How about the away-at-college sector? Explain that per diem is something you can do on vacations and summer. 

  • You can mention to the retired folks that are getting bored that Wildwood values their experience and they can take on a part time job where they get paid to do good in the world. 

  • Of course, don’t forget that full time positions working with our individuals or supporting our program are the mainstay of our organization. 

  • Find an interested party? Talk up the benefits! Here’s what I say as a former teacher, the full time benefits are comparable to a teacher’s.

What if you don’t want to say all that? Just say “Call Michele Hall, our new recruiter, she’ll talk to you about the Wildwood opportunities and get the process started. Her number is (518) 836-2353. “

Thank you for all that you already do!!!

Enjoy your holidays!!!

    What is work?  What does the concept of work mean to you?  What compels billions of people around the world to leave their homes and engage in work each and every day?  What is the purpose of work?   

    A quick Google search defines work as an “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”  For many of us, the effort we put into work is directly related to earning a paycheck.  Essentially, the purpose of our work, at the most basic level, is to obtain enough money to provide for the necessities of life, a few simple comforts and, if we are lucky, savings for a future retirement. 

    But beyond the monetary incentives, work empowers us to be self-sufficient.  It allows us to be self-reliant.  And it provides us freedom, a freedom greater than purchasing power and far more satisfying.  It provides us the freedom of choice.  The freedom to make decisions that will impact our lives for the better and the means to help make them a reality.  

    In other words, work is independence.

    For individuals with disabilities, however, the independence offered by traditional work is often difficult to obtain.  In fact, statistics from 2019 presented in the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium showed that out of the 1, 077, 425 individuals with disabilities living in New York state, only 378,105 were employed.  This translates to a 35% employment rate and stands in stark contrast to the 78% of the population without disabilities engaged in work.  Factor in the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the workforce overall and the disproportionate effect it has had on this segment of the population in particular and the picture becomes even more bleak.

    So what does this all mean for our students?  How will the challenges presented by their disabilities, reluctant employers and limited access to support services impact the quality of their lives?  With so many potential barriers preventing employment, what, then, is the purpose of work for our students? 

    If we allow ourselves to view it as more than just a way to earn a livelihood, work can begin to take on a whole new meaning.  The entire concept can be reimagined, re-purposed to better meet the needs of our students and prepare them for the realities they will face when they step out into that big, scary place known as the "real world."  Work can be redefined.

    For the vast majority of our students, the ultimate goal, the result they are working toward, is to acquire the skills and hone the abilities necessary to reach for the least restrictive environment possible upon their graduation from Wildwood.  Whether it be obtaining opportunities for meaningful employment, participating in prevocational training and supports or securing coveted openings in community based adult programs, the ability to do for oneself… To be self-reliant to the greatest extent possible, often becomes the determining factor.  How, then, can we redefine the concept of work to better prepare our students for the world awaiting them?

    Let’s start with the definition.  Work is an “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”  Next, let’s rethink the purpose of work.  If we determine that "work is independence" and the desired result is achieving it to the greatest possible extent, we can redefine the purpose of work for our students in new and meaningful ways.  We can use ‘work’ to help them achieve the best results for their futures…we can use it to help them be as independent as possible.   

    So here we are…it’s time for a new definition…one that truly accounts for the needs of our students without diminishing the value and importance of traditional employment.  A definition that “works” for us all, pardon the pun…

    “Work is the activity of acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue and achieve the greatest level of independence possible.”   

    Now that we have allowed ourselves to view the concept of work in a different light, we can begin to use it as a tool for building the independence our students will need beyond the walls of Wildwood.  We can truly focus on the skills necessary for improving their lives and increasing their opportunities to achieve futures full not of restrictions, but possibilities.  We can begin to teach, develop and help strengthen the foundational skills they will need to obtain the  greatest level of freedom available to them upon graduation.  We can use work to help light the pathway to a greater level of independence.

    We all should reach for the stars. The desire to pursue and achieve the best versions of ourselves should not be limited by a disability.  Those of us fortunate enough to be in a position to help guide the students of Wildwood along their path toward a less restrictive future want nothing more than for their highest aspirations to be fulfilled.  But as we help them reach for those stars, we have to remain cognizant of the work that it will require.

    For it is easier to reach the stars when you are standing on a sturdy foundation.

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