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Kathryn Biel and Jean Patrick

Physical Therapist Kathryn Biel and Physical Therapist Assistant Jean Patrick.

In celebration of National Physical Therapy Month, East Greenbush Central School District is highlighting the outstanding work of its Physical Therapy Department that works with students on gross motor and full-body skills. Physical therapist Kathryn Biel describes what school-based physical therapy is and how it benefits students.

When I tell people that I’m a physical therapist and work in the schools, there’s often a bit of head scratching, trying to figure out what I mean.

“Oh, do you mean you treat sprained ankles?”

“Do you work with the athletes?”

“I’ve got this pain in my back…”

Since the initial passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1994, school-based physical therapy services have been federally mandated to ensure all students, age 5-21, access to a free and appropriate public education, regardless of disability. Physical therapy services work on the gross motor and full-body skills needed to access education. We need to make sure that a student can get on and off the bus, enter school, navigate the hallways and stairs, maintain his or her body during educational tasks, access all areas of the building, including playground, and egress the building safely in case of emergency. Because of the varying nature of physical and developmental delays among our student body, this may look different for different students. Maybe a student will always use a wheelchair. Maybe he or she will use a wheelchair some of the time. Perhaps a student needs to build strength to get up and down the stairs in the school and on the bus.

Jean Patrick works with a student

Physical Therapist Assistant Jean Patrick works with a student.

A large portion of our treatments focus on strengthening, especially the core muscles that support the trunk and shoulders. Stability through the center of the body is essential for use of the hands and eyes for reading and writing. We also work on balance and coordination. The majority of our caseload and treatments are aimed at the younger students. We hope that by providing the necessary intervention early on, we can close the gap on the gross motor delays in a shorter period of time, as well as minimize the amount of academic time students miss while in PT sessions.

School-based physical therapy is different than medical physical therapy. School-based physical therapy is not intended to meet all the therapeutic needs of a student; rather it is designed to ensure a child safe and efficient access to his or her education. Therefore, a student may still have physical needs, but be functional in the school environment. Medical physical therapy through health insurance may remain an option when school-based physical therapy is no longer deemed necessary. However, it is our goal to give the students the tools they need to keep their bodies moving and in shape. Home programs, with parental guidance and supervision, help the children to progress during therapy and after discharge.

The Physical Therapy Department for East Greenbush Central School District is small but efficient. Kathryn Biel, PT, DPT and Jean Patrick, PTA cover the five elementary schools, Goff Middle School, Columbia High School, as well as the East Greenbush students who attend the two private schools physically located within our district. If you have a question about your child’s gross motor development, please feel free to contact Kathryn Biel at bielka@egcsd.org.