“We want to make ourselves known,” said Nancy Acevedo, an occupational therapist at PS 264 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Acevedo was one of hundreds of occupational therapists, physical therapists and educators who donned “Union Proud” chapter T-shirts on May 13 for the UFT Occupational and Physical Therapists Chapter’s day of solidarity.
The chapter leadership was spurred to organize the day after the city was cited for not providing mandated services to students with disabilities.
“Our members provide a large chunk of those necessary services,” said Thomas Ayrovainen, an occupational therapist at IS 74 in Oakland Gardens, Queens, and the chapter leader of the Occupational and Physical Therapists Chapter. “The aim of the day was to galvanize the chapter, show pride in our work and call on the DOE to provide all mandated services to students.”
Therapists clad in the chapter T-shirts posed for group shots with school chapter leaders and other school colleagues. Many members also made signs and bulletin boards declaring their pride.
“This brought the whole school together,” said Catherine Szpunt, who works at PS 2 in East Elmburst, Queens, and is the occupational therapist at-large representative for regional schools for the UFT chapter. “It made us feel like part of our schools and our union.”
Therapists saw the day of solidarity as an important way to improve visibility for their chapter and for the work they do. “We often go unrecognized by school staff and chapter leaders in the building,” said Ayrovainen. “We work in multiple sites and help the neediest children, often without appropriate space or materials.”
Szpunt said therapists routinely think out of the box. “They find creative ways to help students integrate and access their curriculum so eventually they’ll need fewer services,” she said.
Staff, administration and parents “don’t always really know why we’re there,” said Acevedo, simply because they haven’t met or worked with occupational and physical therapists before. But “little by little,” she said, educators are learning “the importance of therapists in the school and why it’s important for us to work together.”
Beth Salzman, an occupational therapist at PS 42 in Chinatown in Manhattan, said seeing her colleagues “go out of their way to celebrate” occupational and physical therapists on the day of solidarity “showed that they value” the important work that members of her chapter do.