Occupational Therapy Collaboration Benefits Pueblo Community College and Widefield Students


Written by Amy Matthew, Director of Public Relations at Pueblo Community College.

A pilot program between the Pueblo Community College (PCC) Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program and the Widefield School District 3 Transition Link Services program already is paying dividends for students in both groups.  

Widefield is in El Paso County, about 40 miles north of Pueblo, and is part of the greater Colorado Springs metro area. During the spring 2024 semester, a group of Widefield students made weekly trips to PCC’s Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) at St. Mary-Corwin Hospital. Students in the transition program are between the ages of 18 and 21 and are preparing for independent living.

From Idea to Action

The collaboration began with a suggestion from Megan Paben, an occupational therapist with the Widefield district and a member of PCC’s OTA advisory board. Janie Poole, coordinator of the transition program, sought ways to help students learn daily living activities such as doing laundry, making a bed, cooking, and managing money.

As the American Occupational Therapy Association explains, occupational therapists and OTAs help people of all ages and abilities “do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations).” Thanks to expanded space at the TLC, which opened in 2023, OTA Department Chair Tricia Vigil had everything needed to fulfill Poole’s request.

“We want to utilize our building and all the great stuff we have,” said Vigil, “and this gave our students a great opportunity to work with their students.” 

Jennifer Vette, OTA academic fieldwork coordinator, noted the significance of the school district’s commitment to the idea despite the added wrinkle of out-of-town travel. 

“For them to be willing to transport their students down here because they saw the value in it was huge,” Vette said.  

OTA Students Step Up

A classroom setting with several people seated around a table, watching a presentation on two large screens. The screens display an online shopping interface. A presenter sits at a computer desk, guiding the session.
(Left to right) Widefield students Howie LeDou, James Quidachay, and Caleb Johnson work out a grocery budget with PCC OTA student Emily Shafer.

Most of the planning for the new exercise was managed by familiar face: Spencer Claussen, a 2016 PCC OTA graduate, came back to the program to do fieldwork for his master’s degree in occupational therapy. He attends Belmont University in Nashville. 

“It was very cool to see an occupational therapist student supervise the OTA students,” said Vette.  

Because this was a pilot program, the participating first-year PCC students—Sammie Digby, Erica Ruiz Murillo, and Emily Shafer—volunteered their time outside of class.

“The Widefield students were very participatory, which allowed me to give our students a lot more autonomy,” said Claussen. “There was supervision, but it wasn’t overly structured.”

Poole was impressed with the level of connection between her students and the PCC group. 

“They took the time to get to know them, ask questions, asked us questions, and planned icebreaker games to help the students feel at ease,” said Poole.  

Students focused on a different area each week. To teach money management, the OTA students helped them plan a menu and grocery shop online while staying within a budget. The highlight of the final week was a pancake-making contest that utilized multiple skills—meal planning, budgeting, cooking, and cleaning. 

By that point, the young adults from Widefield were comfortable interacting and addressing the future OTAs by name. PCC students had the opportunity to put their classroom instruction into practice and make valuable personal connections.

“It felt like a partnership or friendship instead of a teacher-student relationship,” said Claussen. “I expected it to go well, but it exceeded expectations. The amount of growth from the first week to the last was incredible.” 

Looking Ahead

Due to the initial success, planning is underway to continue the program this fall and make it a Level I fieldwork experience that combines classroom instruction with hands-on experience for OTA students.

“The activities the PCC students planned were relevant to the needs of our students, age appropriate, and well executed,” said Poole. “I am really looking forward to a collaboration next school year.”

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