FROM THE PRESIDENT
Welcome everyone to the Summer 2009 WPSBC Alumni Bulletin
I would like to make an apology for not getting the Alumni bulletin out sooner; however we have several reasons for that. This year we are trying to do the bulletin in several formats. In the past it was cassette and large type print only, But people have requested it on CD and via e-mail. Although the amount of news to put in this bulletin was rather sparse until this spring, now we have some material that we hope you will find interesting.
I want to remind members of our Fun Day Social to be held Saturday, September 12 from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM at the School. The cost will be $5.00 per person and checks are to be sent to Joanna Berkovic, 375 North Craig Street, Apt. 210, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. We hope that as many as possible can attend.
SCHOOL BUILDING RE-NAMED In Honor of Dr. Janet Simon
On Tuesday, May 26, the Board of Trustees of the School for Blind Children formally dedicated the building previously known as the Early Childhood Center as the Janet Simon Building. Along with the dedication, a formal portrait of Dr. Simon was unveiled and will be featured in the lobby of the building.
Friends, colleagues and supporters gathered to celebrate Simon, who served as Executive Director and Superintendent of the School from 1985 to 2007. During her tenure, the School underwent several major changes, including expanding the School’s capacity to provide unique programming for significantly disabled visually impaired children and young adults and being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
In her remarks Janet Simon said: “In the School’s nearly 125 year history, it has altered its course a number of times. Despite program changes, the unparalleled commitment to children with disabilities has been a constant force. Today, I applaud the future with a deep hope that the best days are still ahead and the doors to this building will always swing wide open with welcoming arms and will always embrace those boys and girls who need us most.”
ADDING TO OUR PRIDE – School Enrollment Continues to Rise
Jana Bames is thrilled that her daughter Serena a new student at our School, starts smiling and laughing as they pull in the campus’ parking lot each Sunday evening. “That never happened before,” said Jana, “this is her third school and we’re just so thankful that we love it here.” Serena is just one of many new faces on campus.
Following the graduation of ten students at the end of the 2007-08 term, one of the largest departing senior classes in recent history, the School began this year with 170 students. Since September, there has been a 9% increase in enrollment and as of June 1, 2009 the total number of enrolled students is 185.
The Early Childhood Department, which oversees the education of children up to age eight, has had the greatest influx of students with nine new youngsters added to the roster. Brenda Egan, Supervisor of the Early Childhood Department, says there is no one reason why the School’s numbers continue to rise. She attributes the growth to increased referrals from ophthalmologists, intermediate units, primary care physicians, and possibly most influential, our parents,
To accommodate the addition of so many new boys and girls, the Early Childhood Department’s classroom placements had to be re-organized and a new classroom was opened in February. With the Janet Simon Building, which houses most of the Early Childhood Department at capacity, the new classroom was opened across the street in the main campus’ building.
MESSAGE FROM TODD S. REEVES – Executive Director and Superintendent
It is with great pleasure that we bring you the Summer 2009 edition of our Insights publication, which hopefully does just that — giving you more than a mere glimpse at the talents and achievements of our students, staff and entire school community. We’re hard-pressed to capture all the wonderful accomplishments of our learning community in just a few pages, but we’ll give you good reasons share in our pride as a School, because no doubt if you’re receiving this Insights, you too have contributed to our success, of which we are grateful. First and foremost, our success can only be measured by the success of our students.
We hope you also enjoy learning more about how our residential program provides not only recreational activities and broader adaptive living opportunities for our students from outside the greater Pittsburgh area, but how the good work of new and veteran staff focus on maintaining the health and safety of our students.
Along with our graduates, we’ll be saying goodbye to several staff who have decided to retire after committing years of service to our School for the benefit of students. Curt Ellenberg will be retiring as the Treasurer of the School, having served in the role for 32 years. His contributions can’t truly be quantified. Nor can the contributions of our other retirees, who include teacher Rebecca McGrew and para-educators Joanne Dragan, Sahr Kamanda, Barbara Peterson, Ernestine Thompson and Barbara Wenger. Your efforts will always be remembered.
And what gladdens our heart as we say goodbye to cherished employees is our proof that our celebrations of their gifts endure, and such is the case with the formal dedication of the Janet Simon Building, including the unveiling of her portrait on May 26, Dr. Simon’s inspired service to the School as Superintendent and Executive Director is in large measure the reason the School has achieved a national reputation.
The above in the collective, drives the subject matter of the remaining articles highlighted in today’s Insights, one addressing the growing student population which necessitated the opening of a classroom in mid-year. More and more parents are investigating our School as a place where their child can grow, learn and reach his or her potential. And that growing awareness is attributable to the success of our students, the service of our staff, and to the good things you say about the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children.
DR. CURT ELLENBERG – Longtime School Administrator and Treasurer Retiring
Our graduates will not be the only ones missed at the conclusion of this School year. After 32 years of distinguished service to the School, Dr. Ellenberg will retire in July. The school congratulates Curt on his outstanding accomplishments realized throughout his career as he helped put in place many of the very foundations that have made our special School such a success. Insights sat down with Curt to talk about some highlights of his time at the School for Blind Children.
1. What is the most influential change in the School you have witnessed over the past 30 years?
In the late 1980’s and early 9D’s, we changed the Mission of the School to focus on educating severely multi-handicapped blind students. This was a key to the School’s survival and success- It was necessary to lobby for a new state funding formula, build an investment cushion, restructure the campus, have the faculty retooled and mold a complementary educational and business model. Executive Director Janet Simon, the Board, management, faculty, staff, parents and the philanthropic community were committed to making it a success. Being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence was icing on the cake and a confirmation that the right actions were accomplished.
2. What was most fun?
Planning is the most fun. It can involve an annual budget or renovating a campus structure or establishing a new five-year strategic plan. You try to think through every process, analyze all the possible scenarios and create the best plan. It is challenging and exciting.
3. Why has the School been successful?
Two reasons. First; the staff is dedicated to the students and parents they serve. It is a seasoned staff who are certified or licensed and have vast experience in their specific areas. Many of the staff spend their entire career at the school caring for these students. Secondly; on an annual basis, individuals, foundations, corporations, clubs and civic groups generously contribute for programs, projects or operations. One of my favorite stories involves a bakery truck driver who passed the students and their orientation and mobility instructor on a daily basis on his route in Oakland. He was so touched by the students’ efforts, that he left his entire savings to the School. There are a hundred other stories just like this one that exemplify a very giving Pittsburgh community.
SPOTLIGHT ON VOLUNTEER
Patrick Mittereder has the world at his fingertips, literally. He makes his livelihood by means of a computer and a keyboard. A 2007 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with a Masters in Entertainment Technology, Patrick works as Chief Creative Officer of Electric Owl Studios, a local company that designs computer applications for kids.
Serendipitously, his interest in sharing his knowledge and talents with students at the School has culminated in an intriguing learning partnership that could make a Difference in the lives of students with visual impairments everywhere. Patrick became interested in volunteering following a chance conversation with Bob Doughtery, a School Orientation and Mobility Specialist, at their church. Since then, every Monday this semester, Patrick has come to campus to work with Cavelle, a twelve year old student, on the touch screen computer. The relationship has proved to be mutually beneficial, as Cavelle’s computer skills have improved significantly while Patrick has been inspired to develop new software for visually impaired children. “The current programs are dated and I would like to build ones that have customized features that better teach and motivate students like Cavelle.” Patrick said. According to Debbee Coletta, Cavelle’s speech language pathologist, the available games have too many visual components, don’t have enough auditory cues or are just too advanced.
Prior to his introduction to computerized exercises, Cavelle’s educational team had been struggling with teaching him to use his voice output device. He had difficulty seeing the equipment’s symbols and applying the correct amount of pressure. Coletta then discovered that educational video games on a touch screen computer were highly motivational for him. Thanks to Cavelle’s diligence, his team’s creative thinking and Patrick’s help, Cavelle has made incredible progress. His pointing accuracy has improved; he has learned to identify higher level concepts regarding his environment and has made great strides in making personal choices. Patrick has also learned much from his experience. He hopes to raise funds to patent superior software for special students like those who attend the School for Blind Children. “I really enjoy coming here and hope to someday develop software that will make a difference in the lives of a lot more kids with visual impairments.”
GARDEN AT SCHOOL FOR BLIND VANDALIZED
By Matthew Santoni TRIBUNE-REVIEW Friday, November 7, 2008
Vandals broke a sculpted clay arch, knocked a statue from its base and stole the bronze “butterfly girl” from the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Oakland early Thursday. Whoever is responsible for the destruction apparently climbed an iron fence at the school’s Children’s Garden in the 200 block of Bellefield Avenue, sad Superintendent Todd Reeves. “When I look at children playing in the garden, I see a barrier-free play area for children who aren’t used to that,” Reeves said. “To see it vandalized in this manner, it has a significant emotional impact.” Police planned to begin an investigation by this morning.
The garden was designed for students to touch and feel its various natural elements, sculptures and play features, said Jillian Pritts, institutional advancement manager. The 7-foot-tall arch — made to look like it was covered in grapes, ears of corn, spaghetti and french fries — was broken in the middle, with pieces of one half scattered along the ground. A bronze statue of a boy chasing butterflies had its net pried from its hand, and the statue was left face-down on the ground. A companion piece, a little girl gazing upward at a cloud of butterflies, was gone. Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard said motion detectors set off alarms at the school about 2 a.m.
Employees did not notice anything amiss until someone entering the parking lot later in the morning saw the broken arch, Reeves said. School officials had not yet estimated the property damage, but Reeves said it cost about $37,000 to commission local artists to make the three pieces. “I don’t think we could ever figure out why someone would do this,” Pritts said. Children normally would have been out playing in the garden on such a warm, clear day, but they were kept out because of the vandalism. Police at the Zone 4 station in Squirrel Hill said an investigation might not begin until today because patrol officers were busy when the call came in and civilian staff took the report. Reeves said he hoped neighbors or passers-by might have seen something that could help the investigation. The only surveillance camera facing the garden was pointed at the gate, which was unopened, he said.
Now let’s fast forward to some positive news concerning the vandalism.
TWO STATUES WELCOMED BACK TO GARDEN AT SCHOOL FOR BLIND CHILDREN
By Jessica Turnbull TRIBUNE-REVIEW Saturday, May 30, 2009
Two statues at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children were reunited Friday, after vandals stole one and damaged another last year. The school’s garden in Oakland again features two bronze statues depicting a boy and a girl playing with butterflies. Vandals stole the girl in November, presumably for its metal. The thieves were never caught. They knocked over the boy and damaged a 7-foot-tall arch from artist Robert Qualters that is covered in crafted food such as spaghetti and meatballs for a hands-on experience, said Jillian Pritts, the school’s institutional advancement manager. “We were basically just surprised and saddened when it happened,” she said. Shadyside resident Peter Calaboyias, who designed the statues, said his first question when he heard the girl was taken was how someone could do that to a school for blind children. He said he spent six months remaking and recasting the girl. She is designed to be the same size and height as the students, and is meant to be touched. Calaboyias said he made it nearly impossible for vandals to strike again, by cementing the statue in three places deeply into the ground. The 8,000-square-foot garden is designed to be a space for students to play and explore, with a playground, fountain and bench equipped with audio components.
It was officially reopened at a ceremony yesterday that also named the school’s Early Childhood Center after former executive director Janet Simon, who retired in 2007 after 40 years. The board of the school, which has 180 students, credits Simon with guiding it to a federal Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award in 2001, the only school for the blind in the country so honored. Simon said her tangible contribution to the garden was the idea to make the yard a hill after she saw children in Amsterdam rolling down a hill in a park. She wanted the students to have a safe place to enjoy being children. The center, which opened in 2002, serves 45 children up to age 5, said Director Brenda Egan, who called the theft “devastating.” Pritts said an overwhelming amount of support from the community, including gardeners and artists who donated services, helped lessen the shock after the vandalism. After the ceremony, school staff re-examined the statues, which were installed last week. A portrait of Simon, which will hang in the visitor’s lobby of the center, was unveiled. Simon said the garden is a place that should be appreciated and protected. “The artists’ pieces add a perfect element of magic,” she said.
SPEEDING KNOWLEDGE FOR VISUALLY IMPAIRED
By Daveen Rae Kurutz TRIBUNE-REVIEW Monday, March 16, 2009
Brenda Loughrey understands the frustration of wanting to read a book but not being able to. Blind since age 6, Loughrey helps visually impaired students overcome the obstacles of learning in a world designed for those with sight. “I love books, so if it’s out there in print and I can’t get it, it’s frustrating,” said Loughrey, 48, of Upper St. Clair. “I’ve been in their shoes and had to take classes without the textbooks I needed. We need something better, and we’re finding it.” Loughrey’s advocacy and hard work pushed publisher Glencoe/McGraw-Hill to make its textbooks available more quickly to visually impaired students.
Textbooks that used to take six months to translate into Braille can now be ready within a week in a digital format that allows them to be read from a monitor via a Braille keyboard. “I couldn’t participate as much as my classmates, and it made it a lot easier once I got the book,” said Leanne DeIuliis, an eighth-grader at John H. Linton Middle School in Penn Hills (just a side note Leann was enrolled at WPSBC in the elementary grade) who received the first textbook in the new format. “I thought it was very convenient, and there’s a lot of little things that it makes a lot faster.”
Loughrey, a technology specialist with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, and Mike Horvat, a teacher of the visually impaired in the Penn Hills School District, approached Glencoe/McGraw-Hill this winter about obtaining PDF – or digital – files of a new language arts textbook the district was using they could convert into a format that could be read by the visually impaired. Such files are rarely released because of copyright issues, but Glencoe/McGraw-Hill has agreed to make them available to districts for free as long as they have bought the textbook. “This is all about kids being able to participate and achieve in the regular classroom,” said Vicky McDonough, a sales representative with Glencoe/McGraw-Hill who worked with Loughrey and Horvat. “The idea is that they have their materials in a timely manner, not months later.”
McDonough and Loughrey are both members of the Pennsylvania Assessable Instructional Materials Workgroup, part of a 15-state consortium that works to improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities. Those with sight can’t comprehend the difficulty for a visually impaired person to read a popular book, Loughrey said. For Leanne to read a Harry Potter book, she has to navigate through Braille editions as thick as three phone books, her father said. “The work is time-consuming and it isn’t always accurate,” said Frank DeIuliis, 45, of Penn Hills. “Half of the material she needs or wants, it’s impossible to Braille. But she is a regular kid and just wants a chance.” While Loughrey’s and Horvat’s agreement with Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a big step, it’s only the first one. Loughrey said a distribution model that can be applied across the textbook publishing industry is necessary. “Ultimately, we need all the publishers on board,” Loughrey said. “Look at what happened when they had somebody real right in front of them. We’re not in this to steal books – we just want to help these kids.”
Next is the Necrology report and thanks so much to Louise Flanigan for her time and effort that she always puts into this for each and every bulletin. Your work is deeply appreciated Louise, Thank you.
SUMMER 2009 NECROLOGY
I would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the families of our Alumni member and relatives of our members, who have passed away since our last issue:
Bernice Riley, class of 1937, died April 15, 2008.
- Judith Fish Malinowsky, class of 1970 who lost her mother in May 2008.
- Catherine Susany, class of 1969 died on June 3, 2008.
- Rebecca Thompson Perseo, class of 1969 lost her twin brother in June 2008.
- Bruno Wolozyn, class of 1937 died in July 2008.
- Norma Mustake Charlie’s wife class of 1956 lost her father in July 2008.
- Neil Schulman, a former student died October 3, 2008.
- James Nornhold, class of 1958 lost a sister October 3, 2008.
- Earl Beddell, a former student died November 23, 2008.
- Alden Fingerhoot, class of 1957 lost his wife December 20, 2008.
- Robert Callahan, class of 1948 died December 29, 2008.
- Terry Stang class of 1974 lost his father January 3, 2009.
- Richard Stevenson, class of 1951 lost his brother January 15, 2009.
- Carmen Matesic Deems, class of 1966 lost her mother February 2, 2009.
- Evelyn Kaufinan, class of 1937 died February 19, 2009.
- Margaret Shaul Zalewsky, class of 1969 died April 15, 2009.
- William Troyer, a former student died April 15, 2009.
- Virginia Wolozyn DePiero Linhart, class of 1946 died in April 2009.
- Jeanne Kaufman, class of 1970 died May 27, 2009.
If anyone learns of the passing of a member or a close relative of a member, please contact me as I would like to remember them with our memorial.
I sincerely hope I have not missed the passing of anyone as I can only report the names that I receive.
240 W. Brady Street 2
Butler, Pa. 16001
Phone: (724) 282-2263
Gilbert Busch, class of 1972 is now employed at National Library Services, Music Department, Washington, D.C. We hope you and Elisa will enjoy your new residence in the Washington area.
Michael Zaken, class of 1967 retired from U.S. Steel after 22 years and 10 years at Gulf in March 2009. Mike is kept busy with his volunteer work with several organizations of and for the blind. Also, he is active with his church singing in the choir and recently become a member of his local Lions Club. Good luck, Mike in all your endeavors.
CONLUSION FROM THE PRESIDENT
Summer of 2009 Letter From President Ted Crum
I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer and before you know it the seasons will be changing which will mean planning ahead for the next Alumni convention in 2010. Before that, however, please don’t forget the Alumni fourth Fun Day to be held at the school Saturday, September, 12 at 1:00 and lasting until 5:00. As of now plans are to be similar to the previous Fun Days held in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
The raffle held this spring was successful and thanks to all of those who bought and sold tickets. A special thanks to Chuck Schaefer for going beyond the call of duty spending many hours outside pushing our raffle.
If you follow the news and especially current events related to the nation’s economy needless to say we have gone down somewhat like the rest. We had a substantial loss in investments during the fall and early winter months. We have recovered somewhat but as you know the climb up hill takes longer than the slide down. The Board in an earlier meeting discussed the situation with Donna Wren who, has advised Alumni for quite sometime. She recommends we stay the course and see how the economy recovers before making any significant changes with the current investments. I thought it would be better to share this information now so that people aren’t so surprised next year when updated reports are given at the convention.
While I’m looking forward to my term serving as President, our success in accomplishing a positive experience requires the participation of the full Alumni body. I would like to recognize the wonderful board members I enjoy working with and their help keeping me in line. They are: Ed Facemyer Vice-president, Tom Hesley Treasurer, Bonnie Newland recording secretary, Ellen Goldfon corresponding secretary, Albert Petrolungo Parliamentarian, board members Bill Newland, Chuck Schaefer, Janice Miller, and my trusted adviser who, has no voting power Joanna Berkovic. I hope to see many of you at our Fun Day Saturday September 12 but if not certainly next summer for our 2010 convention. In the meantime, the best of luck to all and a clean bill of health too.
President Ted Crum, WPSBC Alumni Association