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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