• spotlight

  • Spotlight: Empowering Students Who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The AIU’s Innovative Leap into AI-Enhanced Education for the 2023-24 School Year

    Posted by AIU on 9/14/2023 11:10:00 AM

    The future is here and the AIU’s Deaf/Hard of Hearing Support team is at the forefront!

    As we step into the 2023-24 academic year, we are excited to announce the implementation of the program’s innovative Student Performance Measures (SPMs). Three dynamic educators — Samantha Estremera, Mindy Robbins, and Lenette Sostmann — dedicated their summer months to paving a trailblazing path for the students in our program. The work focuses on leveraging the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to empower transition-age students who are deaf or hard of hearing for the world beyond the classroom.

    Educators from the AIU Deaf and Hard of Hearing Support Program during an inservice pose at the AIU Central Office.

    In an era shaped by virtual interactions and the burgeoning growth of AI, it’s more essential than ever that students, especially those who have unique access needs, are equipped with digital literacy and other 21st century skills. The focus of the program’s SPMs will enable our students to not only become critical consumers of readily available digital information, but to engage in creativity and harness AI tools productively and responsibly. The work of the educators will provide students the opportunity to cultivate a culture of inclusivity and positive learning experiences using AI-driven solutions and accessibility tools.

    Educators during inservices at the AIU Central Office on Aug. 19, 2023.

    This year-long learning journey will culminate with students showcasing final projects and insights regarding AI in a special technology-themed volume of the AIU Deaf and Hard of Hearing Support Program’s in-house magazine. The magazine will be a testament of students’ learning, achievements, and the educators’ relentless efforts to ensure student success after high school.

    To kickstart this transformative journey, an all-day, back-to-school training session was held on Thursday, August 18, 2023, at the AIU for the program’s Teachers of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing. Time was devoted to exploring the implications of AI technology for the access needs of deaf and hard of hearing students. It was a productive training and led all educators to embracing this initiative with enthusiasm. 

    The program is eager to step into a future where technology and inclusivity meld, ensuring that all learners with hearing differences have equitable access to the world around them and post-secondary opportunities.

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  • Photo Gallery: First Day of School 2023!

    Posted by AIU on 9/13/2023 1:30:00 PM

    We're incredibly happy to welcome students back to AIU-operated Special Education Schools! Our students hit the ground running on plenty of assignments and projects. For our teachers, there's plenty to explore as we utilize a new curriculum this year!

    Take a look at the gallery below for all the first-day excitement as it happened!

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  • Photo Gallery: Graduations 2023!

    Posted by AIU on 6/7/2023 2:00:00 PM

    Congratulations to the AIU-operated Special Education Schools Class of 2023! The ceremonies at Sunrise, Pathfinder and Mon Valley schools are full of cheer, tears and excitement for the future!

    These hardworking students and their loved ones persisted in making their special day possible. Several of our students made captivating designs onto their mortarboards. This is just a stepping stone to another opportunity in a lifetime of learning.

    Enjoy scenes of our graduations this year in this photo gallery of nearly 150 images! Congrats, grads!

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  • Photo Gallery: Sunrise Superhero 5K 2023!

    Posted by AIU on 5/23/2023 12:20:00 PM

    There's always tons of fun at the recent Sunrise Superhero 5K! This annual event is an unofficial kickoff to warmer weather and although this year took place earlier than usual, the sun came shining through! Thanks to all who participated, as well as our vendors and sponsors for this year's event!

    Check out our runners (and superheroes) in the gallery below!

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  • Autism Acceptance Month: A Spotlight on our Verbal Behavior Classrooms

    Posted by AIU on 4/25/2023 12:20:00 AM

    The Verbal Behavior (VB) Program at the AIU offers a comprehensive approach to teaching language and communication skills to students with autism and other complex needs. As we celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, formally known as Autism Awareness Month, let’s take a moment to recognize this remarkable program and the critical service it provides to our learners. 

    "The Verbal Behavior Program has provided my students the foundational skills to grow [and] communicate," says Molly Michael.


    Our talented autistic support teachers in VB classrooms provide needed instruction and social-emotional support that better helps students reach their full potential. These classrooms are just one type of autistic support classrooms operated by the AIU and showcase the great success of a specialized learning environment. 


    “The Verbal Behavior Program has provided my students the foundational skills to grow, communicate, develop coping strategies, become independent and actively engage in their environment both academically and socially,” Molly Michael, a Secondary Autistic Support teacher at Pathfinder School, said. 


    The VB program, now in its 10th year at the AIU, is designed to help individuals who have difficulty communicating effectively by teaching them new ways to express themselves and engage in social interactions. Our staff determine specific student needs through skills assessments based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Crucial professional development came by way of PaTTAN’s Autism Initiative, providing invaluable consultation directly in the classroom.


    The outcomes can be life changing.

     Quote by Gretchen Morgenstern with an image of students in the VB classroom at Pathfinder School.

    “The VB Program also supports developing relationships with the students,” Gretchen Morgenstern, an Elementary Autistic Support teacher, said. “Over the years, I have seen students who found it too difficult to look at people or could only sit in a chair or stay in the area for mere seconds at a time. These students are now able to approach staff not only to play but to communicate what they want to play with.”


    The program supports students ages 5 to 21 at two AIU-operated Special Education Schools,  Pathfinder and Sunrise. 


    Elementary Autistic Support teacher Kelly Hough said the AIU’s implementation of a Verbal Behavior Program changed the education offered in the schools.


    “In my 20 years of teaching, the last four have been the most impactful due to the implementation of the Verbal Behavior Program,” she said. “I have seen my students make gains behaviorally, socially, as well as become more independent within the classroom and in the community.”


    Alyssa Boehm is astonished at the improvements of her son, Mason, who is nonverbal and learning in a VB classroom at Pathfinder. His communication skills have increased significantly throughout his time in the program using the LAMP app on his iPad or by sign language.


    “The VB program has also helped Mason communicate with his friends and the staff at school. He loves being able to say "hi" to all his classmates and participating in groups to talk, share, and learn with them. The Verbal Behavior Program has taught the skills necessary for Mason to do these things,” she said.


    Mason has been reaching his IEP goals at a faster clip than in the past, Boehm said, and is mastering new words and targets on a weekly basis. “The structure of Verbal Behavior fits with Mason's learning ability and personality to provide him with a way to gain independence and communicate with everyone,” she said. “We could not be happier with the results thus far and cannot wait to see what is to come. Mrs. Kelly Hough, all the staff, and therapists have been wonderful! We cannot thank everyone enough.”

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  • International Day 2023 at Pathfinder School!

    Posted by AIU on 3/30/2023 1:00:00 PM

    Last week, students at Pathfinder School were presented an amazing melting pot (literally) of cultures in Pathfinder's annual International Day celebration!

    Countries from across the world were represented, from Italy to India, Nepal to New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, Ukraine, China, Jamaica and many more! Students in our PRIDE classroom were assigned a fun exploration to find out some facts about each of the countries represented in this year's festivities. The day was sensory bliss -- from the colorful flags surrounding our hallways, to hearing Mr. Nick Fratto's talented cousin playing the accordion to the delicious smells of cuisine throughout. It was a day to remember!

    Check out the gallery below to see just some of the fun!

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  • The Right to Write: AIU Spotlight on Occupational Therapy Handwriting Supports

    Posted by AIU on 3/14/2023 12:30:00 PM
    AIU Occupational Therapist Darla Donnell practices handwriting with students at Shaler Area School District.
    "Practice makes perfect. After a long time of practicing, our work will become natural, skillful, swift, and steady.” — Bruce Lee 

    Evidence-based research shows that practicing handwriting using structured therapeutic instruction is the most effective method of improving handwriting. Therapists work with students one-on-one to build handwriting skills and then provide strategies for the teacher to support the student carrying over those skills into the classroom.

    The written word has multiple components that students must learn to effectively participate in the classroom.

    AIU Occupational Therapist Darla Donnell practices handwriting with students at Shaler Area School District.Components for legible handwriting include letter formation and letter sizing, line awareness, spacing and accurate copying skills. AIU Occupational Therapists (OTs) evaluate these components to determine a student's areas of need to support them to participate in their educational program. 

    Just as the English language has its phonetic complexities, the written word has the added dimension of physical outputs in the form of letter formation, keeping an orderly string of text and spacing, among other components. Some of the strategies used can be pencil grips to support grasp, highlighted lined paper and supports for spacing between words.

    Then there’s speed.

    “Some children try to write quickly and they need to learn to slow down and pace themselves,” says Mary Grassi, Supervisor of Occupational and Physical Therapy at the AIU. “We're not looking for perfection with [a student’s] letter formation or writing their letters just like in a book,” she added. “We want them to be able to write so that it is readable.”

    OTs like Darla Donnell practices handwriting with primary students at Shaler Area School District.

    Occupational therapists with the AIU use programs with proven effectiveness, including Handwriting Without Tears® and the Size Matters® handwriting program, among others. These programs often focus on the sizing of letters, the relative height of “tall” letters (such as h, d, and k) and differences between uppercase and lowercase letters, and much more.

    In some cases, students may be unable to reach a point of legibility. The AIU’s OTs understand and meet every student where they are to provide the best adapted support. They include low-tech and high-tech adaptations such as adapted paper, use of keyboards via iPads or Chromebooks and supportive software to produce written communication. 

    “The main purpose is for them to participate successfully in their education,” Grassi said. 

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  • Photo Gallery: 2023 Golden Hammer Awards!

    Posted by AIU on 3/8/2023 12:30:00 PM

    Last month, our talented vocational students at Mon Valley School were honored at the annual Golden Hammer Awards ceremony!

    Students, parents and teachers gathered at the school media center to reflect on the hard work, contributions and achievements of vocational students at Mon Valley School. With eight vocational programs in highly-demanded fields, from childcare to manufacturing, Mon Valley School is preparing students for future success.

    See the celebrations in the photo gallery below! Congratulations to our wonderful students, and thanks to the technology and food service classrooms for designing and creating the incredible award plaques and tasty baked goods, respectfully!

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  • Photo Gallery: Basketball Season-Ender at Sunrise!

    Posted by AIU on 3/7/2023 1:00:00 PM

    Our basketball season came to an end and it was truly March Madness! The March 1st game of Pathfinder School at Sunrise included a roaring halftime performance from each school's cheer squad and an eye-popping number of three pointers!

    Take a look at all the fun in the gallery below! Thanks to our students and teachers for another incredible season of athletics! We're off to Pathfinder next week for the return of the Pathfinder Swimming Invitational!

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  • Photo Gallery: 2023 Pathfinder Fashion Show!

    Posted by Junior Gonzalez on 2/28/2023 2:25:00 PM

    Our students know how to dress to impress!

    Last week, students at Pathfinder School participated in a fun and educational celebration of expression and presentation as part of the school's annual fashion show!

    This unique event not only allows students to wear uniquely fancy (or even comfortable) clothing — the show also demonstrates attire across multiple settings -- an essential career, as well as life, skill. Rooms were assigned categories for an array of times and environments, including dress for all four seasons, special occasions, office attire, gardening, travel and even costumes! 

    Students, teachers and parents all had smiles during the show. See for yourself in the gallery below! Thanks to our hosts, Ms. Lori and Ms. Devon for leading the festivities!

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