Ice hockey dreams come true for BVISP student
Emma Papariella is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey team. She watches the games with her dad and even took up ice hockey herself.
Imagine her excitement, recently, when she got the chance to suit up and play at PPG Paints Arena during a Penguins game. Just like that, she went from watching games in her house to playing on the home ice of household names like Sid the Kid and Geno.
“It absolutely was a dream come true,” said Emma. “I never thought I'd sit on the bench where the Penguins sit and share the same ice. It's incredible.”
What makes her story all the more remarkable is that Emma has a significant visual impairment. Emma is a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins Blind Ice Hockey team through Envision Blind Sports.
During the second intermission of the Feb. 21 Penguins game against San Jose, Emma’s gold team won the abbreviated game, 1-0.
“It was the fastest three minutes of my life,” said Emma. “My heart was racing and the fans were right there. It all happened so quickly. I’m just going to remember being out there with my team in front of 20,000 people.”
Emma was born in China with congenital cataracts on each eye. They were not removed until she was three-and-a-half years old. As a result, her optic nerve was underdeveloped. She has no depth perception, is sensitive to light and her pupils remain dilated at all times. Emma was adopted as a small child and moved to America.
She now attends high school in the Woodland Hills School District. AIU BVISP teacher, Alissa Falcone, has worked with Emma for the past two years. Working together daily, the pair have developed a strong rapport. Ms. Falcone has even made the trips to watch Emma play hockey.
“She’s always pushing me to do better,” said Emma. “Some days I don't want to do it, but she always pushes me to do better. She’s really good at providing encouragement.”
With her infectious energy and ear-to-ear smile, Emma seems nothing short of unstoppable. She plays ice hockey and has run a tough mudder all the while earning A’s and B’s in her honors courses. She also babysits, acts in plays, and mentors and advocates any way she can not only for the blind, but all people with disabilities.
Taking up ice hockey was difficult, for sure, but Emma likes a tough task and certainly won’t shy away from it. The very first challenge? That was getting on the ice.
“I didn't really know how to skate,” Emma said with a laugh. “Once you get the skating down, you pick it up fast.”
Blind hockey is adapted for its participants. The puck is larger and filled with ball bearings so that players can track it audibly as it careens over the ice. The team works together to determine the best positions for each player with consideration of the type and degree of visual impairment. Emma plays defense.
“I love the idea of hockey and sports in general being able to be adapted for visually impaired people,” said Emma. “Just because you have a disability doesn't mean it should hold you back.”
BVISP student inspired to share her knowledge
Tiraji is a second grader with a thirst for knowledge. So, when faced with the changes associated with an eye condition, Tiraji’s first instinct was to soak up as much information as she could and become an authority on the subject. Recently, she shared her wealth of knowledge with her classmates at Dr. Cleveland Steward Jr. Elementary in the Gateway School District.
Tiraji has a progressive condition called persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous and glaucoma in her right eye. It could worsen in the future, potentially rendering her blind. With the help of AIU vision teacher Jackie Bearley, Tiraji was able to research her condition and create a multi-faceted presentation for her classmates.
"I am super proud of her," Mrs. Bearley said. "She is such a great student and I love working with her."
Mrs. Bearley educates Tiraji about her visual impairment and is helping her learn braille. Tiraji wanted to show her classmates what she had learned, so the two constructed an introductory presentation and four hands-on stations. The stations included:
- A braille lesson to understand the basic concepts of braille code and how it works.
- A crack-the-code game in which students took what they learned about braille and then had to decipher inspirational phrases that Tiraji had laid out in braille.
- A display of braille signs and supplies for examples of how it is used in public settings.
- An array of white canes so that students could get a feel of using a cane as a sensory supplement.
It took courage for Tiraji to stand in front of her classmates and discuss such a personal topic. She was even a little nervous at first. That all went by the wayside when she began interacting with her friends. Thanks to that wealth of knowledge she had banked, talking about her condition became second nature.
By the end of the day, Tiraji’s classmates had learned so much more about her.
"Now her peers have a better understanding of why I take her out of the room three times a week and work with her," said Mrs. Bearley.
Photo Gallery: Pathfinder visits the Children's Museum
Students from The Pathfinder School took a trip to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh Feb. 12 for an immersive learning experience. The day included painting, building, water/ice play, puzzles, Rube Goldberg machines and more.
The best part? There's more to come!
The trip was part of a new partnership program between The Pathfinder School and the Children’s Museum. It is funded in part by the VSA Museum Access for Kids program at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
More visits to the Children's Museum are in the works so that students can dig deeper into art, history and culture.
Speech-Language program is making headlines
The AIU speech-language team is on the cutting edge when it comes to educating students with severe speech impairments. The accomplishments of the program are big news, thanks to a recent nation-wide article featured on the website eSchool News.
The speech-language division has offered a unique, immersive learning experience via the Primary Expressions classroom for nearly two decades. During that time, many lessons have been taught -- and learned. The article delves into six reasons why an immersive learning experience benefits students with severe speech needs. We are proud to be ahead of the curve when it comes to speech-language education and hope we can provide valuable knowledge for intermediate units, school districts, parents and other organizations across the country.
Pathfinder students ace spelling bee
What do the words volcano, garbage and ranch have in common? They were just some of the many words presented to Pathfinder School students at the Thursday's school spelling bee!
Each student took a turn as their teachers read aloud new words for each competitor. After numerous rounds, it was Mikey who triumphed and celebrated by throwing his arms up and giving a big smile. Way to go!
The spelling bee offers plenty of challenges and new feelings. There's the aspect of competition, executing practiced tasks, building vocabulary and speaking in front of a crowd. The school auditorium was filled with fellow students and parents cheering on each speller. It took courage to get up there and do their best, which everyone did.
Congratulations to all who participated!
Mon Valley awarded $35,000 grant to expand computer science program
An immeasurable amount of time and effort has been put into the Mon Valley School's STEAM program, and it's paying off in a big way.
Mon Valley was selected from a large pool of candidates by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for a PAsmart Targeted K12 Computer Science and STEM Education grant. The grant is for $35,000 and will kick-start a multi-phased plan to inject more computer science throughout the school's curriculum. It's all part of an effort to provide students with disabilites the same educational opportunities as their peers.
AIU Fine-Motor Program Gets Students, Schools on the Right Track
Occupational Therapist Brian Convery walked into the kindergarten classroom at Burchfield Primary School, said hello to the class and sat cross-legged on the ground. A chorus of giggles and excited tones rose up and then hushed as Mr. Convery began a litany of exercises like a game of 'Monkey See, Monkey Do'; an imitation thunderstorm; and flat-footed leaps into the air.
The students, naturally, loved it. Even though they had done the exercises enough to plead for the next one as they finished up the previous exercise. They still ate it up.
What they didn’t know is that Mr. Convery was closely examining the skills and progression of each and every student, as well as monitoring their self regulation through fast (dis-regulating) and slow (re-regulating) activities.
Burchfield Primary is part of the Shaler Area School District and one of several districts that take a proactive approach to OT/PT needs through the AIU Fine-Motor Program by engaging young students early in order to decrease the need for related services as they progress through their education.
“During the imitative movement game, I am observing the students' abilities to do a variety of hand skills related to classroom tool use, like finger isolation and separation of the sides of the hand,” Mr. Convery noted. “I am also looking for any struggles with crossing the mid-line of their bodies.”
After the exercises, Mr. Convery leads table time activities that help him gauge a student's ability to hold and control classroom items like pencils, crayons, markers and scissors. Then, they put it all together by dragging their pencil through a maze.
“The maze activity allows me to gauge the students' status with pencil control, visual motor planning and self-regulation as well,” said Mr. Convery.
Not every child begins school with the same skill set. Some have been enrolled in a Pre-K program for years and hit the ground running. Others may be picking up a pencil for the first time in their lives.
“Districts are noting increasing numbers of kindergarteners entering school having limited exposure to fine-motor activities such as pre-writing and scissor skills, probably due to the general increase in the use of technology for play and learning,” said AIU OT-PT supervisor Mary Grassi. “The AIU Fine-Motor Group Program was developed for kindergarten and primary grade-level students to practice and improve age appropriate classroom skills. The therapist works in the classroom with the teacher on an activity such as printing or cutting with scissors. The benefits of this group are twofold: the teacher learns strategies to benefit all students and the therapist can identify and work with students needing additional support.”
The focus of the program is not to kickstart a prolonged period of therapy. The idea is to get the kids up to speed quickly so they are ready to transition to first grade. If a student is lagging behind in certain aspects, Mr. Convery will provide those students with additional support to help them catch up.
The program allows schools to catch issues before they can mushroom, thus saving students from lagging behind, and saving districts money down the road.
“School districts implementing this program benefit by seeing a decreased need for referral to OT because therapists are able to intervene early and skills can be carried over throughout their school day,” Mrs. Grassi said. “Teachers benefit by learning strategies they can use to improve their students’ fine-motor skills for classroom activities.”
It’s a win-win for the families and districts, as well as Mr. Convery. He takes his job seriously, but at the same time he can’t help but enjoy all those smiling faces sitting in front of him.
“I am definitely having as much fun as they are,” said Mr. Convery.
Mon Valley Students Get Real-World Work Experience
When students at Mon Valley are ready to pack up and ship off into the workforce, they will have plenty of experience thanks to packing up and shipping off Storytime STEM-Packs. A partnership between Mon Valley School and the AIU Math & Science Collaborative has paid dividends for each, as order production has ramped up and the students are getting hands-on experience that will help them down the road. Read on to see how this endeavor is impacting our students.
Sports Recap: Mon Valley and Pathfinder tip-off basketball season
The fall sports season officialy tipped-off Monday morning, as the Mon Valley Mustangs hosted the Pathfinder Panthers in a season-opening basketball matchup.
The Mustangs raced to an early, thanks to a 12-0 run, but the Panthers soon found their footing and clawed their way back into the game. It was back-and-forth action down the stretch, as the teams traded baskets until the end.
Mon Valley was able to hold on to its lead until the end, picking up a 34-20 victory.
What a great, hard-fought matchup by both squads!
Photo Gallery: Happy Halloween!
Check out this gallery of students from Sunrise, Pathfinder and Mon Valley schools getting in the Halloween spirit with parades, dances and parties!
Renovated Sensory Room Lights Up Mon Valley Students
Students, like the rest of us, need to take a moment every now and then to hit the reset button, calm down and then get back to whatever the task at hand may be.
Thanks to a collaborative effort between the AIU OT/PT division and Mon Valley School, students at the special education center have a re-designed space for just that. It certainly is not your average break room, although chances are you’ll wish you had one.
The sensory room at Mon Valley is equipped with numerous items to satiate the sensory needs of its students in an otherworldly environment. New this year is:
- A light projector that swirls calming green dots of light around the facility.
- A mermaid fabric bulletin board with “scales” that produce an iridescent glow when rubbed down and another shade when rubbed up.
- A vertical lamp filled with plastic fish and bubbling water.
- A stand-up bopping bag.
- Fiber optic light strands.
- A large bean bag that hugs the body and heightens proprioceptive awareness.
“It’s really been a positive,” said Jessica Carlson, an occupational therapist at the school. “It’s really made a big difference. The kids really like it.”
Ms. Carlson, along with COTA Kathy Elms and PT Denise Winkler, had a big hand in the revamping of the space. They even put in the hard work of laying a new padded floor and assembling the new materials.
Students come in and out of the room as needed throughout the day. A recommended 10-minute session soothes the students and scratches their sensory itch, allowing them to continue their learning in the classroom.
“The sensory room at Mon Valley benefits so many of our students in so many different ways,” said Mon Valley acting principal Stephanie Paolucci. “It's an area that they can utilize to relax, re-focus or re-center themselves. Our occupational and physical therapy staff work diligently to make sure that each student is provided with a customized sensory experience, and it is such an integral part of our program here at Mon Valley.”
Each year, teachers fill out the Sensory Profile School Companion form for each student and the therapists create what is known as a “sensory diet” for them. The sensory room is another tool that educators can use to help their students throughout the day.
“If they are in the classroom and having trouble sitting still and you’ve tried a weighted pad, you've tried taking a walk, and they still are overstimulated, then that would be a good time to come,” said Ms. Carlson.
The revamped sensory room incorporates items that were there previously, such as calming music filling the air, a rocking chair, weighted blankets and a swinging hammock for vestibular input.
The new materials were paid for by a donation from the local Texas Roadhouse Restaurant.
“We are thrilled that we were able to make upgrades due to the generous contribution from our local are Texas Roadhouse, and we are looking forward to continuing to provide our students with the best possible sensory experiences,” said Mrs. Paolucci.
The room has come together nicely and is a big hit with the kids. A student named Daniel summed it up best when he walked into the room and declared, “I love this place!”
AIU Staff Walk for ApraxiaPosted by Eddie Phillipps on 10/11/2018 9:00:00 AM
Fab Lab Visit Sparks CreativityPosted by Eddie Phillipps on 10/9/2018
Former Hoops Star still "Cleaning the Glass" at Sunrise SchoolPosted by Eddie Phillipps on 9/28/2018 9:00:00 AM
Spotlight on Special EdPosted by Eddie Phillipps on 9/7/2018 1:05:00 AM