TEAM High School student volunteers to use horses to offer rehabilitation therapy to people with disabilities

Hope Batchelder continues to volunteer at Healing Steps where she leads rides and helps care for horses. Photo courtesy Woodland School District
Hope Batchelder continues to volunteer at Healing Steps where she leads rides and helps care for horses. Photo courtesy Woodland School District

Through occupational therapy clinic, Hope Batchelder offers people with disabilities therapy using horseback riding and horse care

Hope Batchelder, a class of 2023 graduate who recently completed her studies at TEAM High School, Woodland Public Schools’ alternative high school, volunteers at Healing Steps, an occupational therapy clinic offering people with disabilities rehabilitative therapy using horseback riding and horse care.

Elizabeth “Liz” Vallaire, a teacher at TEAM High School who has a daughter with disabilities, encouraged Batchelder, a member of Woodland’s equestrian team, to volunteer at the Healing Steps clinic to earn the community service hours Batchelder would need for her senior project. 

Elizabeth Vallaire (right) encouraged Hope Batchelder (left) to volunteer at Healing Steps to earn community service hours. Photo courtesy Woodland School District
Elizabeth Vallaire (right) encouraged Hope Batchelder (left) to volunteer at Healing Steps to earn community service hours. Photo courtesy Woodland School District

“I discovered Healing Steps and therapist Kelsey Herman from talking with other parents trying to find activities tailored for kids with disabilities,” she said. “Within two weeks of Harper starting therapy at Healing Steps, her body improved dramatically just from riding the horse as it helped improve her core muscles and balance.”

Batchelder never had the opportunity to ride horses until her aunt asked the family to care for a horse a little more than a year ago. “I love horses, so I signed up for the equestrian team after my aunt let me care for her horse,” she said. “When Liz told me about Healing Steps, I knew that the clinic would be the perfect place for me to earn my community service hours.” As a volunteer at Healing Steps, Batchelder guides the horses so patients can concentrate on developing their core muscles, balance, dexterity, and mobility while riding.

Elizabeth Vallaire and daughter Harper pet a horse at Healing Steps where Harper receives occupational therapy. Photo courtesy Woodland School District
Elizabeth Vallaire and daughter Harper pet a horse at Healing Steps where Harper receives occupational therapy. Photo courtesy Woodland School District

Batchelder enjoyed volunteering so much, she continues to work at Healing Steps even though she completed her high school studies and finished her senior project weeks ago. “I’m intrigued and inspired by Healing Steps as they work with kids with every kind of disability,” she said. “I plan to find a career that involves working with horses regularly.”

Since Woodland’s equestrian team travels to competition throughout the region, TEAM High School offered the perfect fit for Batchelder as she could create a schedule that let her both work on her studies while also participating in the team. “We travel every spring which would make us miss school if we attended a traditional high school,” said Batchelder. “TEAM is the perfect fit for us because we can create a schedule that accommodates our competitions.”

Batchelder initially enrolled at TEAM halfway through her freshman year because of the pandemic. “I have really bad asthma, so when COVID happened during my freshman year, I absolutely couldn’t risk getting sick,” she explained. “When everyone returned to in-person school, I stuck with TEAM because the experience had worked so well for me throughout the lockdown.”

Hope Batchelder, a TEAM High School student, volunteers at Healing Steps to help kids with disabilities ride horses. Photo courtesy Woodland School District
Hope Batchelder, a TEAM High School student, volunteers at Healing Steps to help kids with disabilities ride horses. Photo courtesy Woodland School District

For Batchelder, TEAM’s alternative approach to earning a diploma provides self-starting students the option to excel. “I can push through and work at my own pace which enabled me to finish my diploma more than a half-year earlier,” she said. “I would highly recommend TEAM to any student who’s self-motivated; it’s great because you can work at your own pace, finishing earlier than expected if that’s what you want to do.”

Now that she’s finished her studies, Batchelder plans to continue volunteering at Healing Steps and riding for Woodland’s equestrian team, which is in the process of trying to find a new coach. “Our coach plans to retire this year, so we desperately need to find a new one,” she said. “I’d encourage anyone who has horses and wants to help teach students who love to ride to reach out to Woodland High School to volunteer – we’d love to have you!”

Vallaire emphasized the value of the equestrian team and all extracurricular activities. “Athletics and extracurricular activities motivate students to come to school regularly and succeed since good grades are a requirement for team participation,” she explained. “Finding a coach for the equestrian team would allow our passionate student equestrians to continue riding and competing.”  

About TEAM High School

TEAM High School offers Woodland’s students a path to earning a high school diploma which accommodates individual students’ life circumstances including full-time work, family responsibilities, or simply wanting the chance to finish high school early and get a jumpstart on their future.

The staff of TEAM try to help people think of alternative high schools differently. “Many people hear ‘alternative school’ and think it’s a place for ‘troubled’ kids” said Vallaire. “We want to change that perception: we don’t have ‘typical’ students – we have high-achieving students; students with life responsibilities; and students whose life circumstances make TEAM’s approach to learning a better fit.”

“TEAM can be great for students because we meet them where they are academically and offer a myriad of supports and flexibility with classes to help them succeed,” said Jillian Domingo, who teaches English Language Arts, Social Studies, Art, and Computer Science at TEAM. “Since we have time to work with our students one-on-one, they share information about their work, hobbies, and home lives; I feel having that knowledge helps me be a better teacher by allowing me to adjust my instruction to fit their specific needs and learning styles.”

To learn more about TEAM High School, how to enroll, or how your organization can partner with Woodland Public Schools, visit the TEAM website at www.woodlandschools.org/team

To learn more about Healing Steps Therapy Clinic, visit their website at www.healingstepstherapy.org

Learn more about how Woodland Public Schools educates students and serves the community, by visiting the dedicated news webpage at www.woodlandschools.org/news/wsd

Information provided by Woodland School District.


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