What makes the AIU so special? Our people. The AIU employs more than 1,200 dedicated individuals. This is your chance to get to know us a little better and meet some of the inspiring people we encounter each day.
Three Local English as a Second Language (ESL) students win scholarships to attend diplomacy campPosted by AIU on 5/11/2022
Three Local English as a Second Langauge (ESL) Students Win Scholarships to Attend Diplomacy Camp
Congrats to 2022 Luminari ESL Merit Scholar Mitantsiky Rakotozafy, a student at Jefferson Middle School in Mount Lebanon School District. He is a multicultural international student from France with familial roots in Madagascar.
Mitantsiky, whose photo appears to the left, earned the honor as a winner of Luminari’s “I want to be an Ambassador” essay competition. In his award-winning essay, Mitantsiky explained his desire to expand his knowledge of other cultures and sharpen his language and communication skills.
Luminari’s annual essay competition invites Pittsburgh-area students in grades 7–11 to write about what diplomacy means to them. Winners receive a full scholarship to attend Luminari’s summer enrichment program “I Want to be an Ambassador!” to build and strengthen skills of everyday diplomacy. Campers will learn to effectively represent their families, schools and communities and start solving problems at a grassroots level. This year’s camp runs from June 14‑22, with four days in Pittsburgh and three days in Washington, D.C., where students will visit several embassies and engage with diplomats and dignitaries from around the world.
“Learning about diplomacy gives more confidence when speaking English,” Mitantsiky wrote in his essay. “I want to be an ambassador because it allows me to meet other people, to learn similarities and differences between each community and solve problems around the world.”
“Mitantsiky is a great student who excels in every class at Jefferson Middle School,” says Bernadette Choura, AIU K‑12 ESL teacher. “He has improved his language skills amazingly in the eight months he has been here. One sign of comprehension is when a learner begins to understand humor using the second language. Mitantsiky has already demonstrated quite a sense of humor with his little jokes and funny actions during our class discussions in ESL class. He is a delightful student to have in class.”
Sisters Zahraa and Hawraa Al Jurboori of Woodland Hills High School will also attend the camp with full scholarships – 80% funded through Luminari and 20% through private funding. They were born in Iraq and lived as refugees in Turkey for eight years before moving to the U.S. last summer.
“They are two of the hardest working students that I have had the pleasure of teaching,” says Karen Giovannelli, AIU K‑12 ESL teacher. “Zahraa and Hawraa both are dedicated to bringing peace and support to others. They have seen the devastation of war. Zahraa wants to help others by becoming a doctor, and Hawraa wants to become a lawyer.”
Benjamin Quint, a rising senior at North Allegheny Senior High School, was also named a 2022 Luminari Merit Scholar for his essay submission. Congrats to all!
Luminari is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization founded to support and create activities that broaden minds, inspire innovations and promote community engagement.
AIU English as a Second Language Teacher Writes Amazon No. 1 new release and establishes ESL scholarship with proceedsPosted by AIU on 4/25/2022
AIU English as a Second Language Teacher Writes Amazon No. 1 new release and establishes ESL scholarship with proceeds
Melody Devenney, AIU English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, wrote a children’s book that spent a week as an Amazon No. 1 New Release in the ESL category – "Filled Perfectly and Wrapped in Culture, A Story of Family, Food and Friends."
Melody has worked with the AIU for four years and currently teaches in the West Jefferson Hills School District with the book's illustrator, art teacher Alexandra (Aly) Crouse Bowser.
The realization of Melody’s childhood dream to write a book was also the catalyst for a new scholarship that will help others pursue dreams of higher education. Melody is donating her portion of the book’s proceeds to create Devenney's Cultural Awareness Fund for English Language Learners, a scholarship that will be annually awarded to at least one ESL student.
Melody was inspired to write while standing in front of a display of books by Latina women in Target during Hispanic Heritage Month. She wrote the book that same night, and asked Aly to come aboard after learning about her illustration experience.
The book is centered around an ESL classroom in which a teacher invites her students of varying international backgrounds to prepare and share food from their respective cultures. Melody based the teacher character on her mother, who passed away two years ago. Melody’s mother, the daughter of a first-generation Puerto Rican immigrant, learned Spanish as her first language. “[My mom and her siblings] learned Spanish at home because my grandmother didn’t speak English well,” says Melody.
Like her book's characters, Melody’s family celebrates their own rich culture. “My whole family speaks Spanish, eats Puerto Rican food and listens to salsa music,” she says. “We try to keep that alive.”
Just six days after her book hit the market as a print-on-demand paperback, it became the No. 1 new release in Amazon's ESL category.
To celebrate that exciting milestone, the principals of Gill Hall Elementary and McClellan Elementary, where Aly also teaches, bought a copy for each of their teachers. The book has been purchased by people in three other countries and has sold more than 300 copies in the first four months. At the time of this writing, the book had earned 11 Amazon ratings, all five out of five stars.
AIU Holds 'Show Your Heart' AED & CPR EventPosted by AIU on 2/14/2022
AIU Holds 'Show Your Heart' AED & CPR Event
On Friday, February 11, the AIU hosted “Show Your Heart” with Jamie Moder.
The event was attended by AIU staff from across Allegheny County and focused on learning Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) techniques and the appropriate use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). The course inched our staff closer toward attaining American Red Cross Certification in CPR and AED for our staff.
AIU Holds Legislative Breakfast with Regional LeadersPosted by AIU on 1/13/2022
AIU Holds Legislative Breakfast with Regional Leaders
Several members of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Executive Leadership Team welcomed local representatives to the AIU Central Office during a legislative breakfast on January 13.
The annual event, led by AIU Executive Director Dr. Robert Scherrer, included overviews from each of our divisions about services provided to communities, as well as the AIU's ongoing guidance to our partners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Discussions followed each overview, with local representatives learning about the impact of the AIU programs and services in their respective districts.
We thank those who attended the event, including Reps. Bob Brooks, Emily Kinkead, Austin Davis, Lori Mizgorski, Dan Miller and Dan Deasy.
High school senior crafts hearing device boxes to support students through the AIUPosted by AIU on 12/20/2021
High School Senior Crafts Hearing Device Boxes to Support Students through the AIU
A South Allegheny High School senior recently helped tackle some issues facing students depending on hearing aid devices.
Jacob Riggs created about three dozen hearing device boxes that were distributed to students through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) as part of his Eagle Scout project. Riggs customized fishing tackle boxes to hold the devices and related equipment.
The boxes, which were decorated to match the students’ personalities, were included in care packages that also included motivational books and other materials.
“The primary purpose of this project was to get the students the boxes, but it was also to encourage them use their hearing assistant equipment, because there are some students who are not so fond of it,” Riggs said.
Riggs was diagnosed with profound hearing loss from bacterial meningitis when he was four years old. He has been using bilateral cochlear implants for most of his life.
The recently turned 18-year-old also has been involved with the Boys Scouts for most of his life, capping off his journey by earning the honor of Eagle Scout. Riggs knew he wanted to help the AIU with his culminating project.
“I decided on it because the Allegheny Intermediate Unit has been helping me literally since I was about this tall,” Riggs said, holding his hand about waist-height. “I thought this would be an attempt to repay them for all the good years that I’ve had and all the help I’ve been offered by them.”
The different hearing devices can be difficult to store and are expensive to replace, Riggs said.
The new boxes are waterproof, offering protection to the equipment, which includes hearing aids, chargers, batteries and a hearing assistant device teachers wear. Riggs started planning the project in April 2021. He made the decision to expand the scope of the project to include books and other materials in an effort to help students become more confident in themselves and comfortable wearing the devices.
“You’re given this tool that can help you succeed in life, or at least make it easier,” he said. “They should at least be encouraged to take the opportunity, even if they are a little uncomfortable with it at first.”
Barbara Taylor, hearing support teacher for the AIU, said she was proud to see Riggs offer aid to other students as part of this project.
“Jacob is remarkable,” she said, noting that, in addition to being an Eagle Scout, Riggs is also a member of the National Honor Society. “He’s just a remarkable young man."
A Family Tradition: Service to othersPosted by AIU on 11/10/2021
As we celebrate 50 years, we celebrate a family with more than 120 years of combined experience serving Western Pennsylvania students and families through the AIU.
A Family Tradition: Service to others
Darlene “Dee” Hoffman speaks about her late mother, Ada Petrun, in almost mythical terms, and with good reason. Petrun, who passed away earlier this year at age 96, led an extraordinary life centered by a purpose of ensuring children of varying abilities receive a quality education.
“My mother just never stopped -- she was just an unbelievable human being,” she said.
Hoffman, a former teacher, consultant and department supervisor at the AIU even admits she felt like the odd child out compared to some of her mother’s students, but she understood why.
“I always gave her a pass for helping students who needed the attention more,” she said.
Following in her mother’s footsteps (and her stepfather Paul, who spent five decades in special education), the “teaching bug” bit Hoffman early on. In all, the Hoffman-Petrun family served western Pennsylvania students and the AIU for more than 120 years.
Generations of Service
Hoffman lost her father at the age of 4. The sudden loss jolted her mother into the workforce in the early 1960s and decided to go into education, which soon became exclusively special education.
Petrun spent most of her three decades with the AIU at Mon Valley School as a cooperative education teacher, where she immersed herself far beyond the classroom.
She helped students with job placement in both the school and wider community, was advisor to several student organizations and tenaciously raised money to raise public awareness for students with disabilities in western Pennsylvania.
Petrun also raised funds to pay for and chaperone eye-opening student trips to major cities across the East Coast, including New York City, Washington, D.C., Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, Baltimore and many more.
In addition to her professional life, Ada took a personal interest in the wellbeing of numerous students, and worked with outside agencies to provide clothing and food for students in need. She even served as power of attorney and guardian for two former students at one point in time.
Ada was a recipient of the AIU Annie Sullivan Award in May 1990 for her work in special education. The winning nomination came from a touching letter written by Hoffman, who wrote “I personally have always admired my mother for her courage, positive beliefs and her ‘special’ talent of being an effective helper of mankind.”
Petrun also received the Salute to Teaching Award from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania later that October. She retired in 1993 at age 69.
While the Petrun-Hoffman family has moved on from working at the AIU (for now) Dee Hoffman looks forward to preserving the family legacy by investing in revitalizing a reading room at Mon Valley School dedicated in Mrs. Petrun’s honor.
AIU Thanks More Than 50 RetireesPosted by AIU on 6/10/2021
AIU Thanks More Than 50 Retirees
As the whirlwind 2020-21 school year comes to a close, we send our sincere gratitude to more than 50 wonderful AIU employees retiring from our organization this year. This group of dedicated educational professionals runs the gamut of AIU programs and departments from Early Childhood, Family and Community Services to IT and DART. The number of students helped by these individuals is too many to count! Thank you!
Mary Sue Bryer
Susan Byerly McGee