Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - Updated: 9:26 am
In an age when many educational programs are cutting back, St. Anthony School Programs continues to expand. A new program will open at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament School in Natrona Heights when the school year opens in August.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for us,” said Jerry Gaughan, director of the programs’ charitable foundation.
Rooted in the Gospel, St. Anthony provides an academic course of studies and vocational training for students ages 5-21 with intellectual disabilities. It seeks to maximize the student’s potential for learning, fosters self-respect and confidence, and helps develop competence in employment and living skills. St. Anthony School Programs promotes inclusive education within schools of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Five students will be enrolled in grades K-4 at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The partnership was initiated when families from the Natrona Heights school expressed an interest in St. Anthony. Korin McMillen, director of special education, and Mark Sieg, executive director, met with Audrey Bowser, principal, and parents last year.
“Immediately, they were interested,” McMillen said. The St. Anthony board approved the partnership this spring and staff hirings were made.
McMillen is “excited” that the program is expanding into the Alle-Kiski area. It will introduce the program, she noted, to new school districts and communities. It is anticipated, she said, that the program could quickly expand to all grades of the school as more parents learn about it.
Meetings with Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament staff and students have been highly productive, McMillen said. She particularly noted an assembly that focused on learning differences. “The students were amazing,” she said. “They were so positive.”
McMillen also spoke of the impact St. Anthony students have on the general student population. She noted that other students have made career choices based on their experiences being with students who learn differently. “It can be life-changing for some people,” she said.
In noting the speech, occupational and music therapy offered through the program, McMillen refuted the notion that public schools are able to offer so much more. “We offer everything and more,” she said, pointing to the faith-based component of the program.
Nick Tisak, program supervisor, noted that bonds develop between all of the students as they get a better understanding of people who learn differently.
Gaughan pointed to the extra attention that St. Anthony students are able to receive through a smaller teacher/student ratio.
St. Anthony School Programs operates at four other elementary locations — Blessed Trinity Academy, Glenshaw; Mary of Nazareth, White Oak; St. Thomas More, Bethel Park; and St. Therese, Munhall.
The secondary locations are Bishop Canevin, Crafton; Serra Catholic, McKeesport; and North Catholic, Cranberry Township. Duquesne University hosts a post-secondary program.
The cost to educate a student in St. Anthony’s is approximately $18,000 a year. Parents pay about $6,000, with St. Anthony’s paying the balance. Financial aid is available to families who qualify.
Gaughan said that, by 2030, some 80,000 young people in the Pittsburgh area will be identified with some intellectual disability. “Our needs will continue to grow,” he said.
More information on St. Anthony School Programs is available by calling 724-940-9020, visiting www.stanthonykids.org or on Facebook at St. Anthony School Programs.