The Pathfinder School
Address: 50 Donati Road, Bethel Park, PA 15102
Our Purpose and Description
The Pathfinder School was opened in 1966 to provide an educational program for children and adolescents with disabilities. It is one of three special education centers operated by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.
The South Central Area Special Schools Committee is composed of school board representatives from the following participating districts: Bethel Park, Carlynton, Chartiers Valley, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair.
In agreement with the South Central Area Special Schools Committee in 1973, the AIU was authorized to administer, supervise and operate the educational program at Pathfinder. The above school districts shared the costs of constructing, equipping and furnishing the school and are presently responsible for the physical maintenance of the building.
The Pathfinder School is located in the South Hills suburbs outside of Pittsburgh, an ideal location for community-based instruction. The South Hills Village Mall, retail stores, restaurants, banks and other community resources are within walking distance from the school. Public transportation is also available. A light rail train system stops in front of the school. This train travels to the downtown Pittsburgh area as well as to the neighboring mall with stops at other suburban shopping areas. Many of the students at Pathfinder work on building their mobility and travel training skills in this community resource.
Dee Murray, a parent, describes Pathfinder as putting "an emphasis on independence. The location is great. Since it’s close to shopping areas and the trolley, my son can learn to be more independent in the community."
The Pathfinder School serves students from the ages of 5 to 21 years of age. At the present time, 22% of our student population comes from the seven surrounding school districts in Allegheny County. However, Pathfinder also provides programming to students from many of the other districts in the County, as well as students from both Greene and Washington Counties. Even though the majority of our students are diagnosed as having autism, multiple disabilities and intellectual disabilities, many have associated disabilities— attention deficit disorders (ADD and ADHD), cerebral palsy, epilepsy and seizure disorder, hearing impairment, obsessive/compulsive disorder, orthopedic disorders, other unspecified genetic syndromes, severe learning disabilities, specific types of pervasive developmental disorders, scoliosis, secondary social/emotional difficulties and visual impairments.
The students at The Pathfinder School have diverse needs and require an array of services that reflect that diversity. They include the following:
- Adaptive Physical Education including Swimming
- Assistive Technology
- Behavior Support Plans
- Community-based Experiences
- Expressive Arts - Art, Music, Music Therapy
- Extended School Year Services
- Functional Feeding Support Program
- Hearing Services
- Living Skills Curriculum
- Nursing Services
- Occupational Therapy
- Physical Therapy
- Sibling and Parent Support Groups
- Social Skills Training
- Speech-Language Therapy
- Transition planning
- Travel and Mobility Training
- Vocation and Pre-Vocational programming – Full and Part Day
All of the students at The Pathfinder School share the following:
- a need for a small, highly structured and nurturing learning environment
- a need to interact within small academic environment with a low student-to-staff ratio
- a need for a living skills curriculum that focuses on acquiring skills that prepare them for adult life
- a need for trained staff committed to responding to each student’s unique needs
- a need for a diverse array of learning methods and strategies that are practical and based on real life experiences
- a need for guided social experiences in the community and specialized vocational opportunities
The Pathfinder Environment
Pathfinder is a small school with a high staff-to-student ratio. This small school environment is beneficial in many ways. It provides many opportunities for individualized instruction, allows students who might not have the opportunity in a larger school to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities (Center for Theater Arts, holiday dances, prom, basketball team, cheerleader squad, school assemblies, work-study programs, student council), increases the students’ self-esteem and enables the students to generalize skills more quickly because of the familiarity of staff with all students’ needs.
Amenities include a computer lab and mobile computer lab, weight room, rubber band gym, swimming pool, gymnasium, library with an interactive classroom, occupation and physical therapy treatment room, a water sensory room, a multi-sensory room, science lab and media room. Pre-vocational classrooms include a Work Activity Center, Practical Assessment Exploration Lab, Home Economic Suite, Industrial Arts Suite and auto garage.
Outdoor amenities include a new playground and field. All are wheelchair accessible.
"Smaller schools help promote learning," cites Andrew Rotherham, the Director of the 21st Century Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington. "Research shows that small schools are able to offer a strong core curriculum…and in smaller schools students are more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities and to hold positions of responsibility in those activities." (Rotherham, 1999)
Additional Comments from Parents:
"Pathfinder provides an opportunity for my child to grow with self-confidence. It provides educational opportunities, along with opportunities to grow social."
Pathfinder is "a very close knit, supportive environment where my son spends his days."
My son "is able to participate in more school activities and to a greater extent than he would in a regular high school—wood shop, auto detailing, science, art and weight lifting."
Competent, Well-trained Staff
The staff at The Pathfinder School has a wealth of experiences in working with students with disabilities. Staff participate in at least 1 – 2 hours of staff development activities per month.
Inservice training has included training in behavior management, technology, assessment, instructional strategies and curriculum development. All staff members are trained in CPR, First Aid, Non-Violent Crisis Intervention in addition to specific training related to various disabilities.
Patricia Capelli, a parent of a former student at Pathfinder, characterizes the teaching staff as "enthusiastic, caring, and skilled," and credits her "son’s academic achievements and enjoying going to school each day" to the teachers and the positive atmosphere."
The United States Department of Education’s 18th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act was released in December of 1996 and provides the most recent data available on special education.
The High School graduation rate for students with disabilities in the United States is 41%. This figure represents all disabilities and has remained fairly stable. Approximately 59% of students with disabilities do not obtain a High School diploma.
In a recent follow-up student of graduates from The Pathfinder School and their respective school districts, 91% of the 1994 – 1998 graduates surveyed were employed or actively involved in day programs.