Jenna Hierholzer ’24 dove into her third Field Period® experience – working with youngsters in the Child and Youth Services program on the Fort Drum Army Base – with three clear objectives:
- Distinguishing the different roles necessary in working with special needs children;
- Comparing services at the base’s federally funded centers to those at a private daycare she worked at in a previous Field Period; and
- Gaining greater knowledge about working with special education students and how to assess their success.
She met those objectives—and then some.
“My world completely changed after this Field Period,” said Jenna, whose major is Early Childhood Education with a Concentration in Family & Child Studies. “I feel so much more comfortable. I know what I’m doing. I feel like my working one-on-one with kids who have special needs has gotten so much better. I got this!”
That sense of confidence was hard-won. Jenna admits that she found interacting with a special-needs child during a previous classroom observation intimidating.
But the month-long experience at Fort Drum in upstate New York gave Jenna plenty of exposure – and she loved it! She worked closely with three children: 3-year-old Olivia, third-grader Hamilton, and 2-year-old Theodore. Each had different needs, from autism to Down Syndrome.
By joining the staff in determining care and providing support, Jenna amassed a substantial amount of real-world know-how, allowing her to grow professionally and personally.
“I feel like I’ve really gotten to be more understanding,” she said. “And more creative. It’s just patience and knowing what you’re doing. Knowing how to talk to children. Knowing how to help them if they can’t express themselves. Showing them how you feel and helping them understand that.”
Jenna worked with the Multidisciplinary Inclusion Action Team, made up of a half-dozen or more service providers, educators, consultants, and administrators who outline support for each of the 40 or so children in the special needs program. Through team meetings and individual interviews, Jenna learned how each individual contributed to the web of support students require.
In addition, she shadowed Special Needs Program Manager AnnMarie “Anne” Clegg, herself a 1989 Keuka College alumna.
“I was Anne’s first Field Period student, so when I got there, she had a whole desk set up for me with books and then we went on a tour of the main building,” Jenna said. “Anne was really great about making sure I had what I needed to accomplish my objectives.”
Jenna had support from another source – a relative whose out-of-the-blue question sparked the idea of the Fort Drum Field Period.
“My grandma called me one day, and needed advice on a kid she was out of ideas for,” Jenna recalled.
Jenna’s grandmother, Judi McKee Sanders, is the Army Public Health Nurse at Fort Drum, where she works as the health consultant for the CYS program. She sought to tap Jenna’s expertise with a difficult case and, in the course of offering her feedback, Jenna saw an opportunity.
“I gave her some advice and said, ‘Do you have any more kids like this that you need fresh eyes on?’” Jenna continued. “She was like, ‘Yeah, we have lots of them; there are always kids who need more support here and we always could use fresh eyes.’ So, I said, ‘You know what – could I come up there for a Field Period?’”
Jenna’s grandmother heartily endorsed the idea.
The brass at Fort Drum, however, had a few prerequisites. A background check, fingerprinting, and medical tests were among the conditions.
“And I had to go through some specific training just to be allowed to go into the centers,” Jenna said. “CPR, First Aid, accountability training for protocols on the base, safety and emergency procedures.”
All of that preparation enabled Jenna to immerse herself in the Fort Drum CYS program, a unique experience she painstakingly chronicled in journals, diagrams, and posters that she has since shared on campus at Accepted Students Day in April and the recent Keuka College Expo.
It also prompted her to reconsider possible careers, a process that started following a previous Field Period in which she shadowed an occupational therapist and discussed the many different opportunities her Keuka College education is preparing her for.
“I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher but my career path has kind of changed a little bit,” said Jenna, a finalist this year for Keuka College’s Upper-Class Experiential Learner of the Year. “I think I want to go into art therapy. I’m going to get my master’s in art education and art therapy just sounds right up my alley.”
In leaning toward individualized instruction, Jenna is now ready to embrace a form of education she said she might not have considered had it not been for her Field Period experiences.
“Being a kindergarten teacher and having a whole class or being an art therapist and working one-on-one?” she asked, rhetorically. “I like one-on-one better.”
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