Getting stories about occupational therapy into the news can be a challenge at times. But this week, AOTA member Kim Wiggins, OTR/L, made it look easy. She landed, not one, not two, but THREE unique news stories in her local media about a motor lab that she created for her students.
With OT Month on the horizon, we wanted to share Wiggins’ experience as inspiration to promote the profession in the news.
The harsh cold that comes in the winter months in upstate New York prevents school children from enjoying outdoor recess, according to school-based occupational therapist Kim Wiggins, OTR/L.
“The temperature and conditions prevent outdoor play, so students typically go to the auditorium to watch a movie while the Kindergarten students play with simple activities in the hallway,” Wiggins said, adding that even when outdoors, the children had limited experiences, and spent most of their time walking in circles on a blacktop parking lot.
Wiggins’ background in pediatrics and her increasing caseload of OT referrals were signals that this wasn’t working. Five years ago, she created a motor lab at her school.
AOTA: How did the idea for the motor lab come about?
Wiggins: I wanted to provide a program that would help all students, not just students on my caseload. I offered the idea of the motor lab to the principal and she liked the idea. I compiled equipment that we had in the school and used the concepts and activities from the Ready Bodies Learning Minds program. After several years of completing primitive reflex screenings, completing a formal research project, and writing a grant, I was able to get equipment purchased for a second school.
Currently, 19 teachers bring their classes to the motor lab on a regular basis, totaling 320 students. They attend one to five times per week. The two special education classrooms for students with autism attend daily! The students and teachers are LOVING IT!
AOTA: What made you decide that media would be interested in this?
Wiggins: One night, I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw that a local TV station did a piece on a teacher that does "fun greetings" with her students when they enter her class each day. This is wonderful but I also know that many teachers do this. I thought that if the news thought this was exciting, I should really let them know about the fantastic results of the motor lab!
AOTA: How did you approach media?
Wiggins: I used Facebook Messenger to contact the specific channel that ran the program on the teacher greetings. They responded to me within 5 minutes and asked for an interview. I said I would be happy to, but I should ask my superintendent first. I immediately sent an email to the superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal of MacArthur, and director of Special Services. I was directed to the public relations person and she was excited about the topic and decided to create a press release to all of the local stations. I believe she sent out the press release the day before the scheduled time.
AOTA: Tell us about coordinating the media interviews. Did all 3 news outlets arrive on the same day?
Wiggins: We scheduled the interview for a Friday at 9:45 a.m. because I felt it would be best if a specific class was using the motor lab at the time. Two TV stations arrived with the public relations person on time. They interviewed me for approximately 15 minutes and then they video-recorded the students using the motor lab for approximately 20 minutes. When the students were using the motor lab, a third TV station arrived and started with the video recording of the students. They then interviewed me after the class left.
The district has an overall media release for the students. This specific class did not have any students that were not allowed to be in the media, so they did not get specific parent permission because they did not need to. My district actually encourages teachers and staff to "tweet" using Twitter on a regular basis. I talked with the class before they went into the motor lab and let them know that there was a chance the clip would not make it on the news. I explained that the news often does very quick segments and they may just do something small.
AOTA: Anything else you’d like to tell us about this?
Wiggins: I feel like our district public relations person was very supportive. I asked if there was anything I could do to prepare and she sent me a list of 10 questions that they may ask me. I practiced answering these questions regularly in front of my family members so that it became second-nature and I didn't stumble over my words. When they interviewed me, they actually had me stand about 12 inches away from the camera which felt very awkward. I think this made me more nervous. I discussed so much information and I feel like they chose the least informative piece of information to use in the segment. One station also did not write accurate information and there were several mistakes. (Editor’s Note: AOTA can help rectify inaccurate facts in the news.)
AOTA: Following this experience, do you have any advice for other OT practitioners who are considering promoting the profession in the news?
Wiggins: I present to large groups on a regular basis. I am a confident occupational therapist with almost 20 years of experience, and feel I can express myself effectively. However, to be completely honest, the media interviews made me nervous! That being said, now that I have done it once I would be happy to do it again. I have received so much positive feedback; the teachers and students are proud of themselves. In fact, more teachers are signing up for the motor lab because they want to be a part of something that has received media attention. Also, OTs from around the country are contacting me to help them add this program to their school. I really feel that the news coverage contributed to helping even more students and teachers around the country.
I think it's very important to share what we do with the rest of the world. We do so many amazing things on a daily basis and the “real world" will never know if we don't tell them. The news can always use more positive “feel-good” stories.
Thinking about promoting an OT story in the news for OT Month? AOTA can help. Email your idea to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss crafting a pitch and creating a media list that will crave your story.