Occupational Therapy Brings a New Perspective at Kofi Services

 In a classroom at Benjamin Mays Elementary School, two students work carefully on a puzzle. A counselor from Wilder’s Kofi Services sits with them, pointing out their focus on the puzzle and discussing ways they can bring that focus to the classroom. Nearby, a younger student hula hoops under the watchful eye of an occupational therapy student. As an occupational therapist, she sees the child from a different perspective.
Thanks to a unique partnership, occupational therapy students from the University of Minnesota are working alongside Kofi counselors to more fully address the needs of children in Kofi Services. Kofi is a culturally specific, school-based mental health program for African American youth and their families. To be eligible, students must be experiencing difficulty in school, personal relationships or other areas of their lives.
Kofi counselors are embedded in certain Saint Paul Public Schools. Counselors and other staff identify behaviors and barriers to success in school and create plans that help kids overcome them. “My role is to look beyond the behavior, to see what’s up underneath that behavior,” says Kofi Counselor Denise King.
The program has proven to increase school attendance and reduce disruptive behaviors among participants, but staff are always looking for opportunities to support youth with whatever they may need. Partnering with an occupational therapy student gives King a new lens to view and address a child’s needs.

New Skills, Fresh Perspective
 Occupational therapists help people of all ages participate in the activities they want and need to do. They help children with disabilities, mental health concerns and other special needs to fully participate in school, learning, social situations and other activities, referred to as occupations. They support people in regaining skills after injury and learning how to manage daily life with physical, cognitive, or mental health changes. As with Kofi counselors, occupational therapists look for the issues that are underneath behavior.

Candace Mitchell, an occupational therapy student from the University of Minnesota, recently finished a 12-week rotation with King at Kofi Services. For students like Mitchell, the partnership is a chance to hone their skills in a community setting. For Kofi counselors and staff, the collaboration has been an opportunity to view the needs of the children in their program with a new perspective.
Take Ben, for example. Ben is a first-grader who has trouble sitting still in class or even staying in the room in order to learn. Ben’s teachers reached out to Kofi to help Ben improve his ability to remain focused in the classroom. King looked at Ben from social and emotional perspectives to see what might cause the problems and what the best solutions might be.
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Mitchell saw Ben’s social and emotional challenges but also saw something else. “I noticed that the kiddo had a problem reaching across his body,” she says. Under the supervision of an occupational therapy faculty member, Mitchell completed a standardized assessment and structured clinical observations. She noted visual problems, poor posture, muscle weakness and other concerns. Could the boy’s physical limitations be contributing to his classroom problems? “We would have never even thought about that,” King said.
Mitchell suggested play and movement activities that Ben could use to develop core and hand strength and also improve the ability to cross his body when working with his hands. These activities, along with self-regulation techniques, can support Ben in being more successful in the classroom. King used the information to consider different ways to teach Ben skills and considered changes to his classroom set up to make him more comfortable. She will continue to work with Ben and his teachers to remove barriers to his success as a student.

Greater than the Sum of its Parts

The introduction of occupational therapy at Kofi is the result of a University of Minnesota grant intended to promote interprofessional education and address the health care of children with mental health and other chronic conditions. The grant involves students in the university’s doctor of nurse practitioner, occupational therapy and pharmacy programs.
“The idea is each profession brings a unique body of knowledge that can support the children’s success. The combined knowledge can be greater than the sum of its parts,” says Chris Bourland, who is one of the occupational therapy faculty supervising Mitchell’s clinical rotation. Kofi Services and other Wilder programs will continue to partner with University of Minnesota students to encourage learning across disciplines.
While both King and Mitchell have learned from each other, the ultimate value is the benefit to the Kofi students.  “It is really truly invaluable just to feel that you’re meeting someone’s needs more efficiently and effectively,” King says. “That’s why we’re all here.”

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 Interprofessional Education at Wilder


​The introduction of occupational therapy at Kofi is part of a larger, federally-funded educational change project involving Wilder, Touchstone Mental Health, and the University of Minnesota’s Academic Health Center.

The goal is to change educational experiences by developing authentic, ongoing interprofessional education (IPE) for health science students in classroom didactic as well as clinical practice in community mental health settings. 

The three year, larger project involves students and faculty from the Academic Health Center’s Doctorate of Nursing Practice, Masters in Occupational Therapy, and Doctorate of Pharmacy programs.