January 24, 2017 by HCDE-Texas
In 1988, Jean Polichino was flipping through the Houston Chronicle classifieds when she came across an ad. Harris County Department of Education was looking for an occupational therapist who could be contracted to work in Spring Branch ISD, which happened to be where Polichino had attended high school.
So began a nearly 30-year career with HCDE that ends this month, with Polichino retiring from her post as director of School-Based Therapy Services, the division she has helped mold into a statewide information resource and a provider of vital services to more than 7,700 students annually.
“HCDE has afforded me a rich and meaningful professional life,” Polichino said, but the truth is that her service and leadership have paid large dividends back to the organization and its members – particularly to the school districts that rely on HCDE for well-trained, quality occupational therapists and physical therapists.
The fruits of Polichino’s labor, she’s proud to say, extend beyond the Harris County classrooms where HCDE therapists provide much-needed services. In 2014, School-Based Therapy Services launched TxSpot.org as a way to share information geared specifically for therapists working in public education throughout the state of Texas. A mere two years later, Polichino received word that the Texas Education Agency refers school therapists looking for specialized information about their practice in schools to none other than TxSpot.org.
Polichino named the creation and growth of TxSpot.org as one of her proudest accomplishments as director, but her long career at HCDE has provided other memories and milestones.
“In my first year working as an occupational therapist in Spring Branch ISD, I met a fourth-grader with a learning disability for written expression,” Polichino began, adding that the child was humiliated by her poor writing grades.
Polichino worked with the student, listening to her challenges and gaining her trust, and finally suggested strategies to help her with written assignments.
“She successfully employed the suggestions and was thrilled to find that despite her learning disability, she could produce work similar to her classroom peers,” Polichino said. “I was struck by the transformation in her self-confidence and by the depth of her gratitude. It opened my eyes to the significant difference a therapist can make for children with disabilities at school.”
Making a “significant difference” in the lives of students with disabilities has been something of a motto for Polichino ever since. She has watched this commitment of HCDE therapists lead to tangible success for students, as in the case of Kyle Abbott.
Now an adult with cerebral palsy, Abbott received early intervention services from an HCDE occupational therapist and physical therapist while in the Katy TYKE Early Childhood Intervention program, and then had the same therapists in Cypress Fairbanks ISD until he graduated from high school. He has since earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M, and he’s landed a job working for the Houston Astros – a dream job of sorts.
Abbott’s appreciation for the intervention that his HCDE therapists provided became apparent when he attended one of their retirement celebrations.
“It’s good to have the same professional or therapist throughout the years so they get to know you both on an educational and personal level, so they understand what your goals are and where you want to go in life,” Abbott said.
Now that Polichino’s time with HCDE draws to a close, she remains optimistic about watching its important work continue.
“Because of the support and guidance provided by the HCDE Board of Trustees and Mr. Colbert, the division is well positioned for continued growth long term,” she said. “HCDE School-Based Therapy Services is ready to take on the future!”