Benefits all round with uni students on ground

Primary school students in Mooroopna are benefiting from a university partnership bringing final year occupational therapy students into the classroom – and helping to put children on an early pathway to effective and enjoyable learning.

OT students at Mooroopna PS

Made possible through the University of Melbourne’s Going Rural Health initiative, Monash University students, Jacinta Chan, 21, and Jameson Stewart, 22, are the current “OTs” working with Mooroopna Primary School and Mooroopna North Primary School.

They are gaining on-the-job experience in an allied health profession in high demand at schools, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, workplaces and retirement homes.

They are also well versed in answering the question – just what is occupational therapy?

“We had an entire class dedicated to helping us answer that question,” Jameson said. “It is basically identifying and addressing any issues that prevent people from doing what they like to do, or what they find meaningful to do.”

Therapy may include developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination – important for school and play – or learning positive behaviours to manage frustration or anger.

“I’ve found OT really enjoyable – I like that it’s a holistic kind of care,” Jameson said.

It is also a profession that provides life-changing experiences. Both Jacinta and Jameson have had previous work placements in hospitals, where an illness or injury might make the road to recovery more obvious – like learning new skills to overcome a disability.

They are now relishing the challenge of working in primary schools where any barriers to learning can be less obvious to identify but just as challenging.

“It might be working out why children are having time off school, why they are lacking some skills and whether occupational therapy can help,” Jacinta said.

Jacinta said she and Jameson, after three weeks at Mooroopna North Primary School and Mooroopna Primary School, were now identifying those children they can help and working with families and teachers to develop therapies to point them in a direction of lifelong learning.

“Practice makes perfect and being able to work with the staff and these kids – it’s invaluable,” Jameson said.

Funded by the Australian Government and open to all universities, the University of Melbourne Going Rural Health Initiative provides clinical experience for the nursing and allied health professionals of the future.

This initiative is also providing University of Melbourne audiology students to Mooroopna schools, kindergartens and the new Mooroopna Family and Children’s Centre co-located at Mooroopna Primary School.

On site at the centre since February, the audiology students are working proactively to identify any hearing problems that may require specialist intervention.

Mooroopna Primary Acting Principal Carla May is well placed to see the benefits the budding occupational therapists and audiologists bring to her students and the children next door, at the Mooroopna Family and Children’s Centre.

“Apart from the direct benefits to children and families in the early screening of students for any issues of concern, the university students are developing the skills of our teachers and education support staff,” she said.

“With the occupational therapists, our staff are able to see how they build children’s fine motor and gross motor skills and help their social and emotional development.”

Going Rural Health also aligns perfectly with initiatives to improve the education outcomes and life opportunities of all Greater Shepparton students.

The Shepparton Education Plan is the state’s largest place-based plan and is delivering education initiatives across four stages - Early Years, Primary Education, Secondary Education and a Tertiary Education and Skills stage.

Designed to improve education readiness, opportunities and career pathways, the plan has two key capital projects – the Greater Shepparton Secondary College and, in partnership with Greater Shepparton City Council and the Colman Foundation, the new Mooroopna Family and Children’s Centre.

Going Rural Health is also ticking one more box – aiming to attract young professionals to a career in Shepparton or regional Victoria.

Jameson, who grew up in Swan Hill, needs little convincing.

“I enjoy the great sense of community and friendly atmosphere of working in Mooroopna and providing services that aren’t aways available in a regional town,” he said.

Jacinta, who grew up in Melbourne, is considering all her options.

“It’s challenging being away from home and family but I love being in this setting and helping these children. It’s a truly rewarding experience”

This  news  article is in collaboration with the Victorian Government Shepparton Education Plan.

The contents of this article  was featured in the ABC 'Melbourne University's Going Rural Health initiative gives students taste of working in country'

Going Rural Health

Going Rural Health is an initiative run by the University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health

Through funding from the Australian Government Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program, our programs have been developed to support students enrolled in a nationally recognised nursing, allied health or other health science undergraduate or postgraduate degree at any Australian University (Financial support is subject to eligibility).

Learn more

More Information

Giacinta Caione