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SCHOOL-BASED FIELD PLACEMENTS: A MONTREAL PERSPECTIVE

Elena Kruger

Abstract

The placement of fieldwork students in regular school settings Is new for the Special Care Counseling Department at Vanler College. Students’ perceptions of their placements and graduates’ concerns about working in these schools are described. The need for the Department’s involvement and interaction with the school system is also considered.

The Philosophy of Student Placement
The Department of Special Care Counseling at Vanier College, Montreal prepares students to work with people at all stages of the life cycle who have special needs. D’education specialis
ée and the graduates of the program are referred to as educateurs or educatrises. Students in their second and third years of the program, do fieldwork or stage. The Department selects the fieldwork settings in terms of the agency’s ability to:

  • Ensure that all students have optimum opportunities for learning.

  • Maximize student achievement.

  • Promote positive interaction between itself and the college.

An unwritten criterion but an explicit expectation Is that there will be opportunities for the graduates of our program to be hired by the agency.

The Department has always used selected segregated academic environments as fieldwork placements such as hospital-based classrooms for psychosocially maladjusted children and schools for Intellectually and physically disabled children and youth. Graduates of the program have always worked in these settings. Although one school board in the Montreal area traditionally hired educateurs, It Is the recent integration of pupils with diverse special needs into regular schools that has created employment for educateurs within the school system. Therefore, in response to this opportunity and need, in the past three years we have placed a number of students in regular schools.

Last semester (1990), students placed In regular school settings, as compared with peers working with children and youth in residential settings, began to state that they were not feeling useful."

To gain a better understanding of how school-based fieldwork students view their roles and their contribution to the school setting, a number were Invited to respond to four questions.

  1. What is it like being a Special Care Counsellor In a school?

  2. What tasks do you do?

  3. Which tasks make you feel good? Why?

  4. What are you learning about working with people who have special needs?

For each of these questions, a variety of selected responses by students are presented.

What is it like to be a Special Care Counsellor in a school?

· "I find that being a Special Care Counsellor in a school is quite confusing. My role is often misunderstood by staff and students. It became my responsibility to develop a job for myself which would satisfy my needs."

  • Being In a school where the role of a Special Care Counsellor is just developing, I’ve had to create my own role and [that] has made my stage setting a challenging one."

  • "Teachers are not all aware of your role."

  • "It is difficult to be a Special Care Counsellor in a school where there is no child care worker. Because of this, it takes one longer to understand the role and duties and how the position fits into the school’s team (multi-disciplinary). Also, because there is a lack of appropriate role models, one does not know what behaviours and skills one should be exhibiting in the setting and one does not have an appropriate resource person (outside of the Vanier supervisor) with whom to discuss one’s developing roles and skills within the school."

  • "Stage students are constantly explaining and clarifying their roles to other members of the multidisciplinary team within the school and differentiating themselves from student teachers."

  • "Since Special Care Counsellors in the schools are new you get to try new things and create your own job description."

  • "I do not enjoy the way crisis intervention was used in the school. It is the Special Care Counsellor who deals with this and we get the role to be the bad guy for many children…I think that the children have the role of the Special Care Counsellor carefully explained. .

What tasks do you do?

Students provided a list which Included the following: crisis intervention, lunchtime activities, assisting teachers on field trips, individual counseling, group counseling, observing problematic children in the classroom, teaching social skills, helping pupils with academic work, conducting social skills groups and supporting and encouraging students in personal development.

What tasks make you feel good, and why?

  • "When they open up to me and tell me their fears and insecurities, I know I’ve made a difference in their lives."

  • "I enjoy having groups come and settle a dispute (with myself just being the mediator) by talking It through rather than… It felt good to know that you are reinforcing social skills."

  • Lunch time activities — I am able to work with the kids and deal with them on my own turf. In the classroom it is the teacher’s domain and her schedule."

  • "Tasks which I have planned and carried through make me feel good, as the teacher and aide respect me to allow me to do this. I am in charge and it certainly boosts up my ego and competency level."

  • "The tasks that make me feel good are the ones I create myself… these are tasks which are approached from a Special Care Counsellor perspective." This particular Individual further explained that she modified what she had learned in course work In order to help the pupils. She illustrated this by explaining that she recognized that a group of youth would be going to high school next year and taught them how to use a seven-day schedule. ‘To sum it all up," she added, "the tasks I enjoy the best and that make me feel good are those which are oriented towards the needs of the students in my class and which are constructed and prepared by me."

What are you learning about working with people who have special needs?

  • "I am learning that people with special needs can reach their goals/their potential when given the opportunity (and experience) to do so and… when the activities are adapted to meet their special needs."

  • Most of all, I’ve learned that Individuals with special needs are as normal else… I don’t perceive them as different, awkward, or even special. They’re simply people who need patience, empathy and care, the way we all do."

  • I learned that all children whether normal or not have needs to be fulfilled or worked through and that for some of these children the safest person to talk to was me, the Special Care Counsellor. You often became that important person they could turn to for guidance."

Discussion: A need to clarify roles
This brief survey indicated that students in school settings considered they were making a valuable contribution in their schools and that they had learned more about the positive qualities of children with special needs. Uncertainty with their role in these settings, however, was a constant factor. This is consistent with reports from graduates employed In school settings collected in April 1990. From this feedback we learned that there was little consistency in the job titles, functions, level of personnel to whom the educateur was accountable, or the salary scale. Frustrations, ranging from a desire to have certain training needs met to the need to form some type of support group, were also expressed.

Listening to these school-based educateurs, the faculty recognized that we, as the training agency, had to ensure that school administrators and teachers become aware of exactly what our students were being trained to do, and that we needed to begin a process of communicating with the school personnel about their particular needs.

Although employment opportunities for child and youth care professionals over the past 25 years have been well established in Canadian schools (Denholm, 1988), in the description of an ideal interactive team working In special education (Morsink, Thomas & Correa, 1991), there is no mention of other practitioners such as child and youth care workers. Regardless that this text is based in the United States, current educational literature does not mention other professional roles. What does this say about the understanding of this role and possible contribution within this setting?

In response, descriptions of possible functions at second and third year levels have been forwarded to school administrators and principals in the Montreal area and meetings with classroom teachers are now taking place. The Department has also requested that students be teamed with educateurs where they are employed. One direct benefit from this consultation has been the contact and involvement of students and graduates and the faculty at Vanier College supervising in schools. Certainly a strengthened level of collegiality has now been attained.

The current curriculum at Vanier, however, does not specifically address work in school settings. Students learn about the specific cognitive, affective or motor disabilities which may be encountered in a school-based clientele. They also study developmental psychology and methods of intervention as applied to individual and small groups of pupils. In addition, the weekly two-hour seminar and on-site supervision by faculty, as well as the feedback from the agency personnel are designed to stimulate students’ exploration and clarification of issues confronting them In this setting. Also, a faculty committee has been formed to examine the possible gaps in the current curriculum and to propose modifications within the program In order to more effectively prepare students for school-based settings.

Summary
The placement of students from Vanier College, Quebec, into regular school settings has raised issues around role definition, functions and self-perceptions of productivity. These placements have underscored the need for this training agency to actively interact with the various levels within the school system, and to provide ongoing support for our graduates working in these settings.

References:

Denholm, C.J. (1988). Hiring school-based professionals. The Child and Youth Care Administrator, 1(2), 17-20.

Morsink, C.V., Thomas, C.C., & Correa, V.1. (1991). Interactive teaming:Consultation and collaboration in special programs. New York: McMillan.

This article is reprinted from The Journal of Child and Youth Care Worker, Vol.6 No.2 1991, pages 17-21

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