Community Partnerships in a Pandemic: GSEAP Professors Get Creative

Community Partnerships in a Pandemic: GSEAP Professors Get Creative

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Graduate classes may be online and professors may be distanced, yet GSEAP students still need to fulfill practicum hours in order to earn their degrees. Working with community partners, GSEAP professors have developed creative ways to make that happen.

When Marriage and Family Therapy students in the practicum class work with clients on campus at the Koslow Center for Marriage and Family Therapy, their supervisor is behind a one-way mirror and frequently calls the student during the session to offer suggestions. (Clients are always aware of this supervision.) Now that these sessions have moved online, the supervisor delivers messages to the student via a secure messaging app.

“It actually works well and allows the student to seamlessly integrate the supervisor’s input, because the student can read the message on the app without interrupting the session,” says Nicole O’Brien, PhD, associate professor. And when the class conducts "reflecting teams" – a practice in which the students traditionally enter the room after a session and discuss what they’ve observed in front of the client – it’s now just a matter of having all involved switch the cameras and microphones on their computers to public mode.

The transition was remarkably smooth, said Clinical Director Maryann LaBella, MA, who was tasked with handling most of the logistics involved. Because of the pandemic, “some state licensing regulations were relaxed – not in the number of practicum hours students had to complete for licensure, but in the way those hours could be completed,” she said. “The transition to telehealth required a lot of communication with our community partners about the new policies and protocols. Fortunately for us, the Koslow Center is a training site, so students who could not complete their internship hours at their current site could join the practicum class at the Koslow Center to supplement their hours. I’m proud that we found a way for students to accrue hours without sacrificing our clinical training model, continuity of care, or quality of services provided.”

All community placement sites have since adapted to meet the revised pandemic protocols.

For a lot of clients, the switch to virtual sessions has been positive. “Many clients like telemental health because they don’t have to drive to an office, and because they’re in a comfortable home environment which encourages them to relax,” said Dr. O’Brien. As for students, providing mental health services online offers them the flexibility to work at placement sites all over Connecticut.

For GSEAP students studying education, Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla Elementary School has been a placement site since 2011, allowing more than 30 GSEAP students a year to earn hours. Stephanie Burrell Storms, EdD, associate dean and associate professor of multicultural education; Ryan Colwell, PhD, associate professor of elementary education; and Terri Germain-Williams, PhD, director of teacher education, collaborate with Cesar Batalla’s Jessica Baldizon MA’15 to explore how effective community engagement can promote equity goals by focusing on relationship building, challenging preexisting beliefs, and blending content with experiential learning opportunities.

“We had to revise how we work with Batalla because of Covid-19,” said Dr. Burrell Storms. “The school uses Microsoft Teams, and we’ve switched to a model in which we have two of our students co-tutoring two or three Batalla students in a set-up that creates a mini-pod. Tutoring sessions are 75 minutes, and our students have learned how to keep the younger students engaged in the online environment.”

While the tutoring sessions are primarily focused on literacy and math, GSEAP students refer back to the original equity goal by developing relationships with Cesar Batalla students — doing icebreakers and mindfulness activities, for example, and in general establishing a rapport that fosters more opportunities for learning and engagement.

Tags:  Top Stories,  GSEAP

Last modified: 01-08-21 9:25 AM


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