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Course on Juvenile Offenders: Stephanie's Story

May 2014

All students enrolled in the "Psychology and Treatment of the Juvenile Offender" course must complete a service-learning experience with at-risk or adjudicated teens at one of four community sites. Here is Stephanie's story:

I enrolled in the Psychology & Treatment of the Juvenile Offender course, not certain how well it would apply to my occupational therapy degree. In it, we studied many aspects of juvenile crime from murder and sexual offenses to gang involvement, as well as possible etiology of mental states that affect juvenile offenders. I came to understand on a deeper level how a youth's upbringing and environment can shape their choices. Dr. Kettmann stressed the need to build rapport with these clients and to use empathy as a way of understanding what they may have been through in their own lives. I began to apply what I was learning to occupational therapy; patience, trust and empathy are central to fostering healing in any client, whether the healing is mental or physical.

As part of the class, I had the opportunity to visit the Annie Wittenmyer Complex here in Davenport. I shadowed a counselor who worked with troubled youth, running small group sessions and campus-wide programs. When I imagined observing troubled "youth," I expected to see high school-aged adolescents, so I was surprised when the counselor led me into a small classroom with three elementary-aged boys. She explained that these children typically have extremely difficult home lives, and sometimes come to this center quite young. I connected this to information I learned in class about troubled children commonly coming from poverty or challenged families.

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The counselor began the session with a few arts and crafts and then moved on to a team-building exercise. She gave each of the boys a paper towel roll, and motioned them to one side of the room. She had them stand in a line and try to roll a marble through the tubes, connecting them one after the other, all the way across the classroom. Several times, they wouldn't move quickly enough and the marble would fall out of the tube, resulting in great frustration from the boys. The counselor explained to me that such a simple task as working together was a complex undertaking for children in this situation. After about ten minutes, the boys had finally traveled across the room without dropping the marble, and you would have thought they won the lottery for how excited they were! I could clearly see how foreign success felt to them.

While this instance was a very simple one, I gained knowledge that I could not have acquired simply by reading a textbook. Witnessing treatment for children enhanced my understanding of all that we had covered in class and solidified my belief that the skills used with these children would be crucial for my own profession. In addition to Annie Wittenmyer, I had the opportunity to observe juvenile court at the Scott County Jail and to volunteer with the Safer Foundation of Davenport, both of which further broadened my understanding and experience within the field. Although skeptical at first, the experiential learning component of the Juvenile Offender course positively impacted me and my outlook not only on my career but my worldview, as well.

Just completing her sophomore year, Pietig is majoring in psychology and has been accepted into the Master of Occupational Therapy program at St. Ambrose.

MORE LIKE THIS:About SAU Students, Occupational Therapy, Psychology

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