HCDE Therapy Services division helps students tap into their educational potential

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September 28, 2021 by HCDE Communications

Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) school-based Physical Therapist Sara Goeke shares her passion for helping students with mobility and physical disabilities to empower them in their education. Goeke, who brings years of experience in orthopedic and Early Child Intervention (ECI) therapy, says the support and appreciation of HCDE’s Therapy Services division allow her “to help people and make a difference” in what she describes as “the best job in the world.”

Sara Goeke (left) poses for a photo with Willbern Elementary School student William Metelus, September 15, 2021.

Tell me about your role with Therapy Services.

SG: “This is my twelfth year working part-time with HCDE, and I currently cover 12 campuses. Our primary goal with school-based physical therapy is to make sure the school is accessible for our students. We make sure they can physically get around their school environment and access their desks, the music room, the cafeteria, [etc.]. For instance, we make sure they can get adaptive seating so they can sit at the cafeteria table with their friends, and we adapt whatever is needed for them to access their education. I check in on all my students regularly and try to be on every campus every week, if not every other week. Even if I don’t work with them one-on-one at that time, I always put my eyes on them and check their equipment to make sure it’s still safe and that their teachers don’t have any questions or problems.”

Why did you choose a career in school-based therapy?

SG: “I did sports medicine prior to this and worked in different areas such as orthopedics and ECI. When my oldest started kindergarten, I ran into a friend of mine who worked for Harris County as an OT, and she said, ‘You might want to look into working for the school because you have summer off with your kids.’ That was a pretty good motivator. It was a big jump from sports medicine to school-based [therapy], but I love it! Now, I wouldn’t go back to doing sports medicine even after my kids get out of high school. I love the ability to be creative. No two kids are the same. Every student is unique, and every school situation is different. We get to be creative in problem-solving. ‘Okay, this kiddo can’t do this. How can I enable them to do this in their school so they can be successful and be with their peers?’ I just love the students and getting to see them succeed and be happy and mobile.”

What positive impact have you seen school-based therapy contribute to the lives of students?

SG: “It’s very fulfilling to work with not only the students but their parents; you get to impact a family. It can be hard on a family when their child can’t walk, talk or communicate. Figuring out what they can do and sharing that with their parents and teachers is such a joy. Another piece of what we do is education. We help ‘bridge the gap’ between students and their peers and teachers to help them understand their differences and, more importantly, their similarities. [We also] educate the teachers and staff so they can fully understand the student and their different abilities, not disabilities. Nobody wants pity, and nobody wants sympathy; they want to be treated like all the other kids.”

What are your hopes or anticipations for the year?

SG: “My primary goal is always to help each of my students get the most out of their education by providing the best accessibility possible. One of my personal goals is to focus on figuring out what my students’ goals are. What is something important to them, and how can I help them achieve it? I get to collaborate and work with such an amazing group of occupational, physical, and music therapists to understand students and help them succeed in the school setting and beyond. Simply put, we seek to make their lives better.”

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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