New partnership gives Mon Valley students working experience
Mon Valley students are getting real-world work experience with an emphasis on “world.”
A new program that spans the globe makes a stop at Mon Valley, where students in the warehousing program sort and package dinnerware materials that include plates and bowls. It’s all part of a new partnership between the school and Leaf2Go, a company that turns over a new leaf on disposable dinnerware.
The Mon Valley materials handling program, which is one of seven vocational programs offered at Mon Valley, packages the materials so that orders can be fulfilled. This includes sorting each order to include the proper items and stacking them in a manner that makes the most sense for shipping. Finally, the order is plastic wrapped. They even add their own label noting that the order was packaged by Mon Valley students.
“It’s exciting to see how the students have responded to the new projects,” said Mon Valley teacher Michelle Holsopple. “Each project provides consistent opportunities for students to put into practice the skills they are learning in class. As a result, the materials handling concepts we are teaching become more relevant because the students have a chance to apply what they have learned to actual situations.”
It all starts in India, where fallen areca palm leaves are collected and then used to create the Leaf2Go series of plates and bowls. It’s an environmentally-sound and sustainable process that produces biodegradable products.
Sudha Krishnasamy is the co-founder of Leaf2Go and an advocate for students across the globe. When it came time to expand operations in the United States, Ms. Krishnasamy, who was born in India and has lived in the United States for two decades, wanted to stick with the same business philosophy.
“What we wanted to do is give business to provide opportunity to the students who are challenged,” she said. “There’s a skill they can gain and so it helps everybody. Sustainability occurs in all different ways. This is one of the aspects. This is one of those things that fulfills my dreams.”
The students gain real-world experience and sharpen their growing skill set through the program. The numerous lessons include:
- Check-in procedures when a shipment is received
- Sorting products based on size, shape, etc. for maximum efficiency
- Following verbal and written directions to complete a task
- Order picking and labeling
- Using tools such as a heat wrapper
- Safety protocols for machinery
- Preparing items for shipment
- Teamwork and communication skills
This isn’t the first time Mon Valley students have been called upon for order fulfillment. They already have a partnership within the AIU, boxing and shipping the Math and Science Collaborative’s Storytime STEM-Packs. This is yet another opportunity and one that branches out to partner with an entirely new organization.
“When someone gives us an opportunity to process their goods, they trust us to handle the products with care and package them according to their specifications,” Ms. Holsopple said. “With both projects, our partners are invested in providing a learning opportunity for the students and they work with us to support the learning process. They provide regular feedback and recognize student successes, which really helps the students to gain confidence in what they are doing well.”
Mon Valley life skills teacher Jan Rivindran is a friend of Mrs. Krishnasamy and that helped spark the initiative. Leaf2Go is a startup that originated in 2017. Sure, there have been the kinds of challenges that any young business experiences, but the Mon Valley students have been able to adjust and deliver thanks to their training.
“They have done a phenomenal job of packing and the AIU has been so kind,” said Ms. Krishnasamy. “There have been a lot of challenges through all of this, but every step of the way, the students have done a very good job.”
Express Yourself: Sensory art classes help students overcome challenges and boost their creativity
With her hand tangled in bubble wrap and dripping with paint, Megan smeared her fingertips across the papers lining the desk in front of her, leaving a colorful trail in her wake.
Rachael Lacy swerved her glance towards Megan and exclaimed, “Great job!”
No, this isn’t your ordinary art class.
Ms. Lacy is an occupational therapy assistant who works with students like Megan at the AIU’s Pathfinder School. Along with art teacher Alexia Dabat, Ms. Lacy helps her students overcome the anxieties they associate with certain textures and consistencies, while experiencing the joy of creating and expressing through art.
“Sensory art gives students the opportunity to explore their environment with their senses,” explained Ms. Lacy. “This class also provides a social environment, so students can make connections with their peers. Students also get to participate in messy play -- which can be calming for some and challenging for other students -- within a safe environment. Exploring through a sensory experience is a great way to learn.”
A variety of smells, textures, colors and sounds work in harmony to stimulate the students’ senses. Fine motor skills, visual motor skills and body awareness are just a few of the developmental areas addressed during a sensory art class.
Sensory therapies help support language development, cognitive growth, motor skills, problem solving skills and social interaction.
“Sensory art focuses on the brain's capacity to adapt and develop pathways to learning through stimulation of the senses,” said Ms. Dabat. “Art expression is a form of non-verbal communication. For children who may not be able to articulate thoughts, sensations, emotions or perceptions, it is one way to convey what may be difficult to express with words. Many of our students here at Pathfinder have sensory issues, which means their brains have trouble organizing and responding to information from the senses. Certain sounds, sights, smells, textures and tastes can create a feeling of ‘sensory overload.’”
In just one class, a student like Megan goes from the apprehension of touching the paint or feeling the bubble wrap, to saying, “Look what I did!” while showing off her artwork with a big smile.
“I love to see the student’s joy when they learn a new task and continue to thrive on a daily basis,” said Ms. Lacy.
Sunrise-Gateway basketball game brings schools closer together
Sunrise School and Gateway High School have been Monroeville neighbors for years. On April 8, they came together and shared a basketball court.
The Sunrise Eagles and Gateway Gators competed in a back-and-forth game that ended with the home team Eagles on top of the high-scoring affair, 75-55.
All of the Sunrise players got a chance to play and make a basket in what was a memorable and one-of-a-kind event for the schools.
The high-flying Gators threw down a couple of thunderous slam dunks that electrified the crowd. Gateway certainly put on a great show and had everybody cheering.
The cheerleaders for each squad were on hand and dazzled with their respective halftime show routines between the second and third quarters.
After the game, the Gateway players handed out gift bags to the Sunrise players. Don't be surprised if you see them in the stands at Gateway next season cheering on the Gators!
The idea for the game was thought up the week before it happened. Gateway school board member Valerie Warning serves as the liaison between Sunrise and Gateway and was able to spearhead the endeavor and assist in bringing the event together. Sunrise principal Lucy McDonough said her students had fun playing and cheering on during the game. It was a school-wide event that everyone got behind. It also could be the beginning of a yearly contest between the two schools.
"I just thought it was a great event," Ms. Warning said. "All the kids loved it and it was very meaningful."
Where are they now? Former Sunrise student makes the honor roll
When he was a student at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Sunrise School, Omar Barnard’s teachers had a strong feeling that the once-shy student would make a statement through his education.
They turned out to be right. Omar is back in his home district of East Allegheny this school year and is thriving at the Forbes Road Career and Technology Center, where he recently was named to the National Technical Honor Society. Omar, who is 17 years old and in 11th grade, and his peers were celebrated at a March 5th banquet at the Monroeville-based center.
“I had Omar for several years in several different vocational classes and it was nice to see him grow his skills and be eager to learn something new,” said Sunrise teacher Andrew Sneed. “He was someone you could always count on to be hard working, dependable, self-motivated and always strived to do the best he could.”
Omar has a hearing impairment and has two cochlear implants. He was referred to Sunrise due to complex needs that required a program rich in related services and classroom interventions. The teachers and staff ensured that Omar was given the opportunities he needed to be successful.
It can be challenging at times at Forbes Road, like when an instructor is giving a lesson. Omar will jot down notes or get them later on if he cannot hear during the lesson. But performing the job is less of a challenge because hearing protection is usually required on the job, so it lessens the effect of his impairment.
At Forbes Road, Omar is enrolled in the warehouse management program. His favorite part of his school day? That would be operating the forklift. He said he enjoys the program and would like to continue in the field for his career.
Once he took to the program, the accolade came rather naturally.
“I have just been doing my thing and I ended up on the honor roll,” said Omar. “It makes me feel good. It makes me want to keep working at it.”
Omar is dual-enrolled at Forbes Road and East Allegheny and excelling at both schools. That makes for some proud parents.
“I am extremely proud of him because he made honor roll at East Allegheny, too,” said Omar’s father, Charles Barnard. “He got straight As.”
Said his mother, Daniele Barnard: “He’s an awesome kid. I couldn’t ask for anybody better.”
Sunrise teacher Michele Riley taught Omar from third through eighth grade. Omar was a shy child who liked to play with toy cars. Eventually they made a goal of speaking to someone during a field trip. It didn’t happen the first few tries, but one year Omar asked about an item in a gift shop and Mrs. Riley heard his voice gain traction and his confidence grow as he continued speaking.
“Omar has continued to grow, attending Forbes and becoming an overall phenomenal young man,” said Mrs. Riley. “I am proud to have contributed to the success of Omar and expect many tremendous things for his future.”
Omar is no longer shy, but he still has a love of all vehicles. In addition to the forklift, Omar has earned his learner’s permit to drive a car and is also looking at dirt bikes. His need for speed continues at East Allegheny, where he joined the track and field team and competes in the 1,600-meter run.
Omar is definitely on the right track!
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!”
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