Recent psychology grad reflects on her fourth-year placement experience

Newly minted grad Eki Okungbowa’s university experience was a richer one, thanks to a placement she undertook as the result of a fourth-year class, Atypical Development.

The course focused on children, youth and adolescents with learning disabilities, and Okungbowa decided to obtain some hands-on experience by working with a youngster with special learning needs. She paired up with a Grade 8 student at Africentric Alternative School at Keele Street and Sheppard Avenue West in Toronto and spent three hours each week from October to March assisting the teen.

Eki Okungbowa shows off an award she received at the Undergraduate Research Fair

“The student had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and I helped her with math, writing, language and social skills,” Okungbowa said. “Academically, she needed help in subjects listed in her IEP [individual education plan]. Socially, she had trouble with conflict resolution and self-regulation.”

Okungbowa worked with the student and consulted with her teacher in assisting the teen. The psychology major saw positive changes in her charge by the end of her placement.

“The social environment was very important for her, and she had many friends at the Africentric school,” Okungbowa said. “But based on her past experiences of being bullied in her old school, she was very defensive when it came to disagreements and sometimes had difficulty navigating the social scene.”

Okungbowa talked with her professor about learning tools and self-regulation strategies for children, and researched some of the different psychological theories to gain insights that she could use with her student.

“We learned a lot of different theories in class such as the bioecological systems theory, and I was able to apply a few of them to my particular situation,” she said. “The opportunity to complete a community placement was definitely the driving force behind why I chose this class.”

Okungbowa worked with the youngster on setting and achieving goals; on self-awareness and problem-solving skills; and on focusing on her schoolwork. She watched the youngster gain confidence during the year in math and writing, and learn to cope better with social situations.

“We talked about her having breakfast before school, because when she did, she was more alert and focused in class,” Okungbowa said. “She completes class assignments more efficiently now and she was also able to pick all academic-level Grade 9 high-school courses for next year with confidence.”

Okungbowa said that the Africentric school was a positive experience for both of them.

“My student was able to relate to the stories and conversations in class, because they were culturally relevant to her,” she said. “They were interesting to me too, and I also learned from being in a non-traditional classroom.

“The ability to translate theory into practice is the crux of many jobs in the working world. This placement taught me how to do that within the context of child development and education, and really helped me develop the skill of blending knowledge from readings, lectures and assignments with practical experience.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus