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Integrating Physical Therapy into the Classroom

Tavares helps William navigate the
balance beam.

In a typical day, Diane Tavares, MS, PT, conducts about eight 30-minute physical therapy sessions for children in the Roxbury Township Public Schools. But it’s what those children do after they leave Tavares that’s really important. "What happens," says Patricia Hovey, Roxbury director of special services, "is that she’ll teach the teacher those skills that she’s teaching individually, and that continues all day.  So, now it’s not just physical therapy once or twice a week – it’s physical therapy all the time. It’s an important piece of what Diane does. She’s not just working with the child; she’s working with the teachers and the aides."

Tavares works in the Roxbury district as part of the Solutions program at Matheny. Under Solutions, physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and rehabilitation technicians from Matheny help public and independent schools enhance education and communication for their special needs children.

One of Tavares’ star pupils is five-year-old William Miller, a student in a self-contained preschool class at the Jefferson Elementary School in Succasunna. When William first started school two years ago, Tavares recalls that he had very weak trunk control. "He was falling all over the place. I had to reassure his teacher that he was going to fall and that what she had to do was make the environment the best that she possibly could. We worked on how to give him the support in the classroom so he was safe, being that one step ahead so that if he turned a corner and was going to trip, we’d be there ahead of him." When William came into the therapy room for his individual treatment, Tavares says, the teachers and aides were willing to have someone come with him. "It’s a collaborative effort," says Patti Klein, William’s teacher. "We’re lucky because it’s a partnership."

Thirty minutes twice a week, says Tavares, "was not going to fix someone like William. It has to be continuous all day long.  His teacher and the aides gave him the support. A big part of his success is that they carried it over into the classroom. As a result, he’s very motivated. He wants to keep up with other children in the classroom. When he first started, he wanted to do the balance beam, and we’d be a nervous wreck.  He can do it now without assistance. It’s incredible how much he’s improved in two years. He’ll play catch with me now.  He’ll throw at a target. These are things he had no interest in doing because it was too hard."

A resident of Randolph, Tavares has been working in the Roxbury district on behalf of Matheny since March 2007. During that time, she has become an integral and valued member of the staff. Hovey describes her as "an advocate for the needs of her students and a collaborative partner with our district’s staff. Her dedication to her profession and to her students is apparent every day that she works with us." Cheryl Miller, William’s mother, says her son is doing, "wonderfully." The great thing about Tavares, she says, is that, "she goes out of her way to keep me posted. She follows through with everything."

Tavares received both her Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in physical therapy at Long Island University in Brooklyn. In addition to her work for Matheny, she currently also treats clients, ranging from pediatric to geriatric, at the Greenhill Wellness Center in Parsippany. 

For more information about Matheny’s Therapy Solutions program, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 751.

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