Oswego Children’s Project provides internships to students

For the past 15 years, the Oswego Children’s Project has been providing internships for Oswego State students.

The Oswego Children’s Project (OCP) is a partnership between Oswego State and the Oswego City Elementary School District.  Both the college and town school district work together to place college students with pre-at-risk child participants.

The OCP internship is highly specialized, but is available to students of all different majors.  Currently, interns are pursuing majors in human development, psychology, communication  and education. Supported by Experience-Based Education in the Compass, OCP is a year-long internship where interns earn a total of six credits.

Interns begin in the fall semester and are required to meet for weekly, three-hour classes to be trained in play techniques.  OCP instructor and supervisor Melanie Proper said the techniques learned in training classes “are based off of the Child-Centered Play Therapy model, which many [interns] will go on to learn in their graduate school training.”

“Interns also have a volunteer placement where they gain more experience working with children and practice implementing the techniques they are learning,” Proper said. Some popular locations for volunteer placement are the Children’s Center on campus, the YMCA or Mrs. Roger’s Neighborhood Child Care Center.

After training and volunteer placement, interns continue into the spring semester by being assigned about four to six children from kindergarten through third grade in any of local Leighton, Kingsford Park, Riley and Fitzhugh Park elementary schools.

“Interns are responsible for holding individual, one-on-one, weekly sessions with each of the children implementing the play techniques they learned in the fall semester,” Proper said. “They also attend a weekly, three-hour group supervision to discuss their sessions and improve on their skills.”

Throughout the spring semester, interns are expected to complete assignments that intend to enhance their knowledge of child development, play therapy and professional preparedness.

“This program is intended to be a prevention program targeted toward children who are pre-at-risk in hopes of preventing them from needing services in the future or identifying children who might be ‘flying under the radar,’” Proper said. “These sessions provide the children with a safe, accepting environment that allows them to feel empowered to explore and express their thoughts and feelings.”

Interns must be able to observe child behavior and interpret their verbal and nonverbal cues, while recognizing potential signs of abuse and trauma as they work with the children.  Due to this, “OCP is a demanding internship that strives to provide students with a higher level of education and training,” Proper said.

By participating in this internship, interns gain a great amount of experience and preparation for graduate school, and/or future careers. According to Proper, many OCP interns “continue on to graduate school and careers focused in mental health counseling, play therapy, and other related fields.”

In addition to hands-on interning, interns attend an annual conference to further their educational and professional experience.  This year, the conference, called “Bivona Summit on Child Abuse,” is being held in Rochester from April 22-23.

According to Proper, the Oswego City Elementary School District is a vital part of the success of this internship as “they [not only] assist with funding the program, [but] they are instrumental in the selection of the child participants and ensuring time and space in each school for our interns to hold their sessions.”

Each year, about 35 to 40 applications for OCP are submitted and 10 to 12 interns are accepted.

“This year we have 11 interns and I am extremely proud of how hard they work and how much progress they have made,” Proper said. The OCP internship is run and coordinated by Kdee Luke, a mental health counseling student and graduate assistant at Oswego.

The OCP is striving to expand into additional school districts within Oswego County, allowing more interns to be accepted into the program.

Applications for the 2014-2015 year are no longer being accepted as of its April 18 deadline; however, students should keep OCP in mind as a great opportunity for the future. In addition to the Oswego Children’s Project internship, Proper said that “SUNY Oswego also offers graduate level coursework in play therapy and a graduate certificate program in play therapy through the Counseling and Psychological Services Department.”