• spotlight

  • Sports Recap: Mon Valley and Pathfinder tip-off basketball season

    Hoops season tipped off at Mon Valley.

    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!


  • Drive to Succeed Defines BVISP Student

    Posted by Eddie Phillipps on 11/9/2018

    Zainab and Ms. Secrist go over class notes.

    West Mifflin student Zainab Alhelali will graduate a year early while taking college courses at Point Park University. In her college entrance essay, Zainab detailed her experience moving from Iraq to the United States at the age of 10, and how challenging the transition was.

    What she did not mention was one of her defining characteristics: Zainab is legally blind.

    It was by design. Zainab is confident and unflinching in the face of adversity. She would rather work twice as hard just to keep up than use her visual impairment as an excuse not to succeed.

    "I don't want to be that person who says, 'I can't do this because of my vision,'" Zainab said. "Because they’ll say it's OK. I want to be the one to do it."

    Zainab was born with a condition known as Achromatopsia. It is a non-progressive, hereditary visual impairment that results in color blindness, light sensitivity and a loss of vision. For example, in order to read a document on a computer screen, Zainab must decrease the brightness until the screen is a grayish-black. She also needs to enlarge the font to about 18.

    Growing up in Iraq, it was difficult to get the support she needed.

    "It was hard," said Zainab, who along with her family speaks Arabic at home.

    She greatly benefitted from the support provided by the West Mifflin School District, along with the AIU Blind and Visually Impaired Support Program. It was at this time that she was exposed to advanced technology. In the eighth grade she began working with her current AIU Vision Teacher, Sharon Secrist. Zainab said she learned more about her visual impairment and how to build her life around the Achromatopsia without letting it impede her progress.

    For her part, Sharon has worked with Zainab on vision goals and orientation and mobility, which is traveling indoors, out in the community and at Point Park University.

    Waiting to cross the road.

    Zainab prefers not to use a cane, but, due to the brightness, she does wear a pair of stylish mirrored sunglasses when she's out and about.

    Ms. Secrist’s role is to work with Zainab on the best way to access her academic curriculum. Technology helps. Sometimes, Zainab uses an app to read notes and assignments to her. Her phone allows her to zoom in on the blackboard or lesson notes by taking pictures.

    "Before I was embarrassed when other students were around and I had to take a picture," Zainab said. "Now, I don't care. The other kids say it's so cool and now they do it, too, because they don't want to have a lot of papers."

    Ms. Secrist also pushed Zainab towards independence. 

    "She would come to me and say, ‘Ms. Secrist, I can’t see the board, I can’t see this, I can’t see that,’” recalls Ms. Secrist. “I told her, one day, shes going to need to talk to her teachers or talk to her boss. Now, she emails her teachers and she asks them questions. She has come a long way."

    Taking the time to talk with Zainab and understand where she came from allowed Ms. Secrist and Zainab to move forward together. It's easy to see the bond they share simply by speaking to them. An easy smile perks up on Ms. Secrist's face when she talks about Zainab or shows off pictures of her. Zainab lights up and talks about the many ways that Ms. Secrist has guided her on her journey.

    "I had to understand who she was in order to teach her," Ms. Secrist said.

    The two share a laugh.

    Zainab and two of her older brothers have achromatopsia. Another older brother does not. Their parents each carry the gene that causes achromatopsia, however both parents have perfect 20/20 vision.

    Education is important in Zainab’s household. Her father is a surgeon and her mother is a mathematician. Her father was a general in the Iraqi military and the family moved several times before making the trek to America.

    Zainab is on the fast track to return to Iraq for medical school. She is a citizen of both the United States and Iraq. The latter allows her to study at Baghdad University for free where she will study psychiatry. After six years of school there, she plans to return to America for her residency and to practice.

    Zainab is taking college courses, graduating high school early, is a strong advocate for herself and is on the fast-track to success. Those traits, not her visual imparment, have become her defining characteristics.

    “You have no idea how proud I am of her,” said Ms. Secrist. “I've never had somebody so driven.”

    Zainab, in her stylish sunglasses.

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  • 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! 

  • Apple Crunch Festival Gives Students a Taste of Everything

    Posted by Eddie Phillipps on 10/30/2018

    A student, left, and teacher mix a bowl of apples that will become applesauce.

    Most of us have the opportunity to eat three meals each day. Even the busiest among us needs to grab a bite to eat. But how often do we reflect on what we are eating and where it came from?

    Students at Sunrise School got a taste of all the different aspects of apples at the school's annual Apple Crunch Festival on Oct. 24. 

    In the morning, the kids peeled, sliced and seasoned locally-grown apples before roasting them into a sauce for an afternoon snack. The mouth-watering scent of fresh apples tossed in cinnamon roamed the hallways as the apples slowly baked into a delicious sauce. 

    In between, they learned all about the farming and harvesting of the fruit, as well as its nutritional value in a healthy lifestyle. Apples were the star of other lesson plans as well, like adding up bushels for math class, or discussing the growth process of a seed as a science lesson.

    It was a great way to welcome fall and a clever adaptation of lessons that engaged the students throughout the day. In the end, they truly got to enjoy the fruits of their labor with a healthy snack of homemade applesauce! 


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By Month

  • 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 Apraxia

    Posted by Eddie Phillipps on 10/11/2018 9:00:00 AM

    Check out this new post about our staff's participation in the recent Walk for Apraxia.

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  • Fab Lab Visit Sparks Creativity

    Posted by Eddie Phillipps on 10/9/2018

    The mobile Fab Lab outside Sunrise School.

    Students at Sunrise, Mon Valley and Pathfinder schools were immersed in hands-on learning throughout the past month, as the Mobile Fab Lab made its rounds to each school. The Fab Lab spent an entire week at each location where students were introduced to STEAM learning through machinery and software before creating their own unique projects.

    A student observes the laser cutter.

    The Fab Lab team introduced students to equipment such as a laser cutter, heat press, vinyl cutter and more. 

    A student designs a project.

    Next, the students learned how to design their project on a computer before producing it on the machinery. 

    A student peels back the decal on his towel.

    Most of the students elected to create laser-cut rulers with their names on it, or towels emblazoned with their name and school logo. The towels will be perfect to twirl at basketball games this winter to show a little school spirit! 

    A student shows off his finished project.

    By the end of each week, students had designed and created their very own projects! 

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  • Former Hoops Star still "Cleaning the Glass" at Sunrise School

    Posted by Eddie Phillipps on 9/28/2018 9:00:00 AM

    Eddie Klingensmith is somebody that students at Sunrise School can look up to, for more reasons than one.  Check out the story about this former student and current AIU employee by clicking on this link.

    Then and Now

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  • Spotlight on Special Ed

    Posted by Eddie Phillipps on 9/7/2018 1:05:00 AM

    Start the year right with these back-to-school tips

    Rested? Check.
    Relaxed? Check.
    Rockin’ tan? Check.

    Now that your summer checklist is complete, it’s time to start a whole new one. The first day of school is rapidly approaching. Whether you’re saying “How exciting!” or “How can that be?!” it’s a good idea to go over a few things and make sure you are prepared for the best start.

    We spoke with numerous educators and they gave us some wonderful tips for preparing yourself for the beginning of the school year.

    • Come in early. Don't wait until the last minute. Take the time to set up the room before the fun begins.
    • Contact parents. Reach out and tell them how excited you are to work with their children this year.
    • Color code your inventory. We’re all guilty of saying, “What, where did I put that again?” A system of organization will help you track down materials faster, so that you can get back to what you do best.
    • Schedule your deadlines. Be prepared, rather than surprised, when a deadline begins to approach.
    • Develop a month of lesson plans. Whether it's paperwork or an unexpected turn of events, there can be hurdles at the beginning of any school year. Having your lesson plan taken care of is one less thing to worry about.
    • Work yourself into your own schedule. Because you focus so much on  your students, this can be the hardest part! Be sure to carve out time to cook a healthy meal or go to the gym. Your body will thank you in the long run.

    But what if you don't work in the typical classroom setting like folks in OT/PT, BVISP, Deaf/Hard of Hearing or Speech Language? No worries, we’ve got you covered as well.

    • Make your car your zen place. For the road warriors out there, this is key. Keep anything you need in trunk and load up your phone with your favorite traveling playlists. You never know when traffic will snarl.
    • Become familiar with your surroundings. Learn the layout of buildings you are assigned to. And remember: School secretaries and other staff are your friends. Get familiar with them.
    • Wear comfortable clothing. Those six-inch heels in the closet might look great for a wedding, but probably don't work well if you are on your feet and interacting with students all day.


    Good luck to all of the educators out there and have a great school year!


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