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Thursday, June 29, 2023
A former patient recently contacted OSH teacher Jonathon Bellino to share the good news: they had a new apartment, new truck and were finding success at work. Bellino had helped the patient earn their GED while at the hospital.
“He called because I worked with him for months and he knew I'd be proud of him," Bellino said of the call. “That's the end goal. It's rewarding. You make this investment in people. You want them to succeed."
Whether it's learning life skills, completing high school education requirements or taking college courses, a team of teachers helps OSH patients work toward learning success at their own pace.
The hospital partners with Willamette and Lane Education Service Districts to provide services to patients 18 to 21. The Supported Education team on both campuses guide learning for patients 22 and older.
In 2022, more than 200 patients received education services on both campuses. Patients who choose to enroll in college courses pay for their continued education and OSH teachers support them in their applications for financial aid. In the past year, two patients completed bachelor's degrees and many more have received a high school diploma or its equivalency. The most recent graduate, Michael, completed his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with a specialization in applied behavior analysis from Capella University. The Junction City campus held a small ceremony to recognize his achievement. It was an opportunity for staff and peers alike to share their congratulations and celebrate challenges overcome and success.
Wearing a cap and gown and an honors cord symbolizing his academic achievements, the patient thanked his peers and OSH staff who supported and challenged him along the way.
“Thank you for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself," Michael said during the ceremony and encouraged his peers to achieve their own goals. “The few of us who have graduated are examples that statistics are not definitive."
Michael is one of four graduates who has earned a bachelor's degree in the past 12 years and is among the first to take graduate-level courses, said Erika Gabbard, one of the OSH teachers who worked with him.
Michael has already started his graduate courses at Capella in applied behavior analysis with a specialization in organizational behavioral management. He hoped the degree will lead to a job as an addictions counselor or provide different opportunities to help others.
“It is truly an accomplishment to get a bachelor's degree – for anyone – not to mention someone who is working through the trials and tribulations of being a client," Gabbard said during the ceremony. “Michael is an example of what anyone who puts their mind to it can accomplish."
A few more students are currently enrolled in college courses and many others are working on completing high school.
Willamette ESD teacher Janie Zimmerman and instructional assistant Robin Stickel recently worked with a patient eager to finish high school who was only two credits away from receiving his diploma by early May and completed his goal a few weeks later.
“I want to get my diploma so I can get the job I want," the patient said during a May visit to the Quest School, the Willamette ESD program.
His job choice is plumbing for practical reasons.
“Plumbers make good money and people need them," he said.
Stickel and Zimmerman adapt lessons to benefit their students' abilities and future plans. For this student, the focus is on organizational and literacy skills.
“Right now, in English class, we're learning how stories are organized so we're also using operational manuals as an example because that's what he'll encounter in his work as a plumber. It's not just English skills; it's life skills," Zimmerman said.
In addition to their teaching license, OSH teachers hold a master's degree in an educational field. Many have prior experience in special education services, working with English as a Second Language (ESL) or other adult learners.
Rachel Pike joined the OSH team about six months ago and has already shared in many “ah-ha" and first moments with students.
“From people learning how to use email for the first time to completing college courses, we get a lot of 'I didn't know I could do that!' Many people may research hobbies or things they'd like to do when they are released and that gives them something to work toward. It's a positive thing they get to invest in," Pike said. Some patients get frustrated in the classroom with many dealing with traumatic brain injury or other traumas in addition to the cause for their admission to the hospital, and the teachers' work to create classroom environments where they feel comfortable taking risks like learning new skills, said Supported Education teacher Dave Leaton.
“Anytime you engage your mind, there's learning going on," Leaton said. “A big part of what we do is remind students of their capabilities. What looks like success for one student will be different for another. We help them find ways to work around challenges. We're building the knowledge that you can be successful even after failure."
Juan is another Quest School student who earned a modified high school diploma before his admission to OSH. He attends classes to relearn concepts he said he knows he missed out on the first time.
“In high school, I wasn't paying attention well because high school was hard for me," he said. “I was dealing with anxiety and other issues and it was hard for me to concentrate. I slept most of the time. I want to learn new stuff and I want to get smarter."
Juan speaks English and Spanish fluently and is a voracious reader, who enjoys reading novels in both languages.
The teachers tap into what students enjoy to encourage deeper learning.
“You see the growth in confidence which can also help them as they leave the hospital," said Stickel. “Having the opportunity to learn new skills can give them hope when they feel at their lowest, and they know we believe in them."
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