• spotlight

  • February Spotlight: Occupational and Physical Therapy (OT/PT) Supports

    Posted by AIU on 2/20/2024 7:05:00 AM

    This month, we are taking a “look” at the myriad sensory supports for schools and students from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Occupational and Physical Therapy Support Program, colloquially known by its acronym, OT/PT (no need to pronounce the slash!)

    OT/PT provides an array of supports – visual, auditory, and tactile supports, as well as olfactory (smell), vestibular (balance), proprioceptive (self-movement and perception), and interoceptive (internal perception) assistance.

    “As occupational and physical therapists, we understand that how a student processes sensory input can directly impact their success in the school environment,” said Holly McElhinny, the AIU’s OT/PT program director. Across many Allegheny County school districts, our support staff assists in the development of safe and effective sensory rooms, as well as more ad-hoc approaches like constructing pathways in hallways and smaller sensory “stations” throughout the school. OT/PT also helps with education and training fellow teachers and staff at our partnering educational agencies. McElhinny adds, “We feel it is essential that the teachers and staff working with students understand how sensory input is processed” and it is seamlessly incorporated into everyday school routine.

    Sensory in Action

    Sensory in Action bags filled with items for sensory activities

    In September 2023, the AIU OT/PT program leveraged evidence-based practices and research to develop, create, and implement a new sensory program and newsletter designed to support Preschool Early Intervention (PEI) classroom routines. The “Sensory in Action” program was launched for teachers, staff, and students in both PEI classrooms and in itinerant settings. Therapists utilize a coaching model to provide ongoing support to classroom staff and families while incorporating ideas for sensory motor activities (essentially, how your body works with your mind to accomplish things) into already established classroom routines. Each newsletter has a sensory system focus and comes with a corresponding activity bag filled with fun materials to use during treatments or classroom routines.

    The collaborative effort has been well-received by therapists in our PEI classrooms. Tracy Weber is an Occupational Therapist Assistant assigned to the Riverview PEI classroom. She noted one student there who struggles with engagement in class activities. The student was “totally tuned in” to one of the sensory activities outlined in the newsletter!

    A student at North Allegheny playing with a sensory box.

    Photo: Alisya Yusman uses her sense of touch to explore items in a bin. She uses her hands together to scoop and pour the beans, and her fingertips to pick up one at a time.  All of this is happening while Alisya is using flexible seating at the table.

    To date, the program has rolled out newsletter editions focused on tactile, vision, and movement, and additional sensory domains will be featured soon!

    AIU OT/PT’s Collaborative Work with our LEA partners: West Jefferson Hills

    The West Jefferson Hills School District, in collaboration with Occupational Therapy Assistant Sheena Bonner and Occupational Therapist Lisa Karner, recently secured a $1,000 Foundation for Education grant that will help fund the creation of a sensory zone in the Jefferson Hills Intermediate School library. The project, designed with the specific needs of students in life skills classes in grades 3-5 in mind, aligns with the goals of the Jefferson Hills School District to create inclusive learning environments catering to the diverse learning styles and abilities of all students.

    South Fayette School District

    A heart sensory box for students at South Fayette Elementary.

    At South Fayette Elementary, AIU Occupational Therapist Christine Nypaver and Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant Kim Rayburg are working in collaboration with South Fayette’s Director of Support Services, Dr. Rachel Andler, Principal Tyler Geist, and Vice Principal Pharlan Ives to update the school’s sensory room and develop sensory opportunities throughout the campus. A rock wall and rubber flooring were recently installed in the sensory room. Planned additions to the space include a permanent water table, a sensory table, and an updated swing.

    “Sensory Stations” are also being developed throughout the school, which offer opportunities for students to take a break from the classroom and experience calming and organizing sensory input through bins filled with sensory materials, such as a heart sensory box (pictured). Sensory “Pathways” are also being created in hallways as another sensory experience students can utilize throughout their day.

    At AIU-Operated Special Education Schools

    In addition to their work in districts, the OT/PT program is hard at work implementing impactful settings in our AIU-operated special education school classrooms.

    At Pathfinder, staff saw a need to have additional designated space and equipment to meet the unique needs of their primary grade-level students. This space could also be shared with and used by PEI students in the school's dedicated preschool classroom location. Through a collaborative effort, OT/PT staff worked closely with Pathfinder School Principal Nick Fratto, along with PEI supervisor Loreleigh Elders and director Carrie Frohnapfel, to equip, design, and build the new space and train the staff for appropriate, safe use and care of the room. In addition, AIU staff received the help of Jaelyn Taylor, a design student at Chatham University (and the daughter of OT/PT supervisor Ginger Nease), who developed the renderings for the project. 

    In Monroeville, due to limited space availability, Sunrise School does not currently have a dedicated sensory room. A collaborative project is in the works to help meet this need. Instead of a single dedicated sensory room, OT/PT will be creating opportunities for sensory interaction throughout the school building. Areas will include a calming wall, an interactive sensory path leading to the cafeteria, and customized spaces outside some classrooms. Jaelyn Taylor will also be assisting with this project.


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  • Photo Gallery: 2024 Access Your Future Event for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Students!

    Posted by AIU on 2/19/2024 5:30:00 PM

    Earlier this month, students who are deaf and hard of hearing from across the region converged at the AIU's Central Office in Homestead for a special event in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) for an empowering event! The "Access Your Future" event focused on several aspects of independence for those with hearing impairments, including self-advocacy & communication styles, using assistive technology and accommodations, and fun social activities. At the end, students were treated to a panel discussion with several adults who are deaf and hard of hearing from all walks of life to learn how they navigate the "real world," and hear their stories. It was an enlightening day for all!

    Special thanks to Brett Glavey from OVR and Jeanine Esch, Jennifer Pirring, and all our AIU Deaf and Hard of Hearing staff for making this event happen!

    See photos of this event in the gallery below!

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  • Photo Gallery: Apply EBP leads professional development sessions for AIU OT/PT staff

    Posted by AIU on 2/16/2024 3:00:00 PM

    Thank you to Apply EBP, who led two sessions of professional development for our OT/PT staff on Feburary 16.

    First up was a session titled "Creating Goals that Are Easy to Monitor", which focused on setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals. Next up was "Motor Matters! Interventions for Autistic Children", a session centered around appropriate assessment of motor skills, and evidence-informed motor interventions.

    Leading the sessions were Carlo Vialu and Peggy Morris. Among other accomplishments, Vialu served as the Director of PT for the NYC Department of Education. Morris has worked in pediatrics for 40+ years.

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  • Photo Gallery: 2024 Spelling Bee at Pathfinder School!

    Posted by AIU on 2/2/2024 1:00:00 PM

    What does F-U-N spell? Fun! That's what the intelligent group of Pathfinder students experienced during the 2024 Pathfinder School Spelling Bee!

    Parents and family members of students made their way to the multipurpose room to watch their children compete in the annual tradition. This year, the competition took more than 10 rounds before Austin won! He correctly spelled "mosquito." Congratulations to Austin, runner-up Dexter and all our competing students! 

    Catch some of the action in the photo gallery below!

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  • Photo Gallery: Students Go Bowling!

    Posted by AIU on 1/26/2024 2:10:00 PM

    Students at Mon Valley and Sunrise schools had a wonderful time during a friendly bowling competition at Spins Bowl in West Mifflin! Students bowled in many ways, including using adaptive equipment such as assisted rails and ball ramps. Students followed their heavy lifting with a tasty lunch afterward! See some of the action in the photo gallery below:

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  • Photo Gallery: Pep Rally to kick off the new year at Pathfinder School!

    Posted by AIU on 1/17/2024 12:10:00 PM

    Pathfinder students held their pep rally on Friday, Feb. 12 and were treated to a visit from none other than Iceburgh! Students engaged in numerous activities including red light, green light, a free-throw competition, performances by members of the Mt. Lebanon High School Cheerleading team and support and encouragement by football players at Upper St. Clair High School!

    It ended with a fun activity in which every single student (and visitor) helped tape principal Nick Fratto to the gymnasium wall! See all the fun in the gallery below!

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  • Photo Gallery: Holiday Carols at Biondi Lincoln!

    Posted by AIU on 12/6/2023 12:10:00 PM

    Thanks to Biondi Lincoln - longtime Sunrise School boosters - for hosting our students for a caroling celebration that welcomed us into the holiday season! On Dec. 1, our students, clad in red, kicked off the festivities at Biondi Lincoln in Monroeville with a set of holiday classics! Led by music teacher Mr. Christopher Dufalla, students carried plenty of tunes before they were surprised with early gifts from Santa and Mrs. Claus! 

    See photos of the incredible event in the gallery below!

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  • Photo Gallery: Pathfinder Thanksgiving Dance!

    Posted by AIU on 12/1/2023 6:10:00 PM

    Last week, Pathfinder School held its annual Thanksgiving Dance and turkey trot show! The dance included the ever-popular light display at the speakers, as well as the turkey design show in the cafeteria! See all the fun in last week's dance, as well as some turkey design highlights in the gallery below!

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  • Photo Gallery: Mon Valley Students attend the 2023 Build ON Construction Trade Show!

    Posted by AIU on 11/30/2023 11:20:00 AM

    Students at Mon Valley School are making connections! Last month, students from Mr. Michael Harrison's Buildings and Grounds class attended the 2023 Build ON trade show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh, joining CTE students from across the region as they network with local construction guilds!

    Our pre-vocational students got valuable one-on-one time with welders, electricians, and other workers from across the construction industry for a learning experience they won't soon forget! This hands-on experience helps students do more than exercises and places them in a career mindset. We can't wait to see what comes of these connections!

    See some of our students criss-crossing the Build ON convention floor in the photo gallery below!

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  • Photo Gallery: Mon Valley @ Sunrise Basketball!

    Posted by AIU on 11/21/2023 1:10:00 PM

    Last week, the Mon Valley Mustangs made their way to Sunrise for the next basketball match of the season! The Eagles made a valiant effort, but Mon Valley came out on top 29-20 for what became a very competitive match! The fun on the court was followed by a pizza party in the Sunrise library!

    Check out the photo gallery below for all the action!

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