Special Education Program Senior Staff

Special Education Schools Team Leadership

Nancy Draftina, M.Ed. | Program Coordinator, LEAP Preschool

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Nancy has been employed by the Watson Institute since 1995. She has been the Program Coordinator for LEAP Preschool since 1997. Nancy’s depth of experience in early childhood and special education led to her involvement with the LEAP Preschool Program beginning in 1982. As part of federal and state funded replication grants, Nancy participated in developing and providing consultation to preschool teachers replicating the LEAP Program throughout the United States. Throughout the years, she has provided best practice strategies for inclusion and autism as a consultant to school districts, in workshops and with the development of educational materials. As a strong advocate for promotion inclusion in preschools, Nancy truly believes in high quality inclusive programming for all children and enjoy proudly presenting LEAP Preschool as an exemplary program for over 35 years.

Jennifer Do, M.Ed., MA, LPC | Program Director, WISCA Programs

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Mrs. Do has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Art Therapy from Mercyhurst University and a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy with Counseling Specialization from Seton Hill University. She recently obtained her Master’s Degree in Education with her Certification in Special Education from Carlow University. She began her career as a mobile therapist working with individuals on the autism spectrum. She later moved into outpatient therapy and seeing individuals through private practice. When she moved back home to the Pittsburgh area, she worked as a Mental Health Clinician in a partial hospitalization program classroom for early childhood students for six years. She joined the Watson Institute WISCA program in 2015, where she began as the behavior specialist for the program. She has presented at conferences on topics ranging from art therapy with individuals with autism, special education in the classroom, and most recently at the PDE conference poster session on restorative practices.

Samantha Generalovich, M.Ed | Education Director, Friendship Academy

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Samantha is the Education Director at Friendship Academy, bringing with her nearly a decade of experience working in the special education field. Samantha attended West Virginia Wesleyan College for both her undergraduate and graduate school studies, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education K-6, and her Master’s Degree in Multi-Categorical Special Education K-12. Samantha started at the Watson Institute as a classroom teacher and most recently served as the Educational Liaison, working with more than 30 local school districts to coordinate enrollment, IEPs, intakes, and tours of the program. She is certified in Applied Behavior Analysis and has had experience working in both the public school system and in charter schools prior to assuming her role at the Watson Institute.

Alexandra Wilkes, LSW, HSV | Director, Psychological Services & Program Director Friendship Academy

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Alexandra Wilkes is the Program Director of Friendship Academy and the Director of Psychological Services at the Watson Institute. Mrs. Wilkes has over 20 years of clinical behavioral health experience, most recently serving as the Vice President of Clinical Services at Glade Run Lutheran Services. She rejoins Watson after having served as the Clinical Coordinator/Managed Care Coordinator at Friendship Academy from 2007-2015. Mrs. Wilkes earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. Mrs. Wilkes also has a Home and School Visitor PA Education Certification from the University of Pittsburgh. Mrs. Wilkes also taught several classes over the course of six years as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Education in the Department of Psychology in Education.

Michele Trettel, M.Ed., TVI | Executive Director, Education Centers

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Michele has been employed by the Watson Institute since 1995. She has been Program Director since 1997 and was previously a behavior therapist and teacher of visually impaired students at Watson. Michele spent eight years in early intervention as a developmental specialist, itinerant therapist and classroom teacher. Michele also holds a Supervisor of Special Education certification and completed the Applied Behavior Analysis Program through Penn State and holds a Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis. Michele’s major responsibilities include overseeing and supervising all of the day-to-day operations of the Education Center Sewickley and Education Center South, ensuring a quality educational program for all of the students. Michele also consults to school district programs. She has grown up around special education, having had a sibling with special needs, and truly loves her work!

Jamie Desrochers, M.Ed. | Program Director, Education Center Sewickley

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Mrs. Desrochers joined the Watson Institute in the summer of 2020. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary and Special Education from Clarion University and a Master’s of Science degree in Distance Education and Special Education Leadership from The University of Pittsburgh. She began her career as a classroom teacher educating students with special needs in district schools as well as an Approved Private School for students with severe behavioral needs. She then moved to teaching online at PA Learners Online for eight years and from there served as the Director of Special Education at PA Distance Learning prior to joining the Watson Institute as a Team Coordinator. She has presented at numerous conferences within the Commonwealth of PA as well as nationally, on various special education topics and distance learning education best practices in special education.

Education Center (Sewickley & South) Senior Staff

Ashton Appel, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Appel started working at the Watson Institute in the spring of 2015 and has primarily worked with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Prior to her employment at Watson, she worked as a TSS and in a learning support program in a public school district. Ms. Appel graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Penn State Behrend and obtained her Elementary Education K-6 certification from Edinboro University in 2011. In 2014 she earned her Master’s Degree in Special Education and Special Education Certification Prek-8 at Robert Morris University. Ms. Appel transitioned into the role of Team Coordinator during the 2021-2022 school year. During her time here at Watson, she has mentored several new teachers, helped pilot and implement the progress monitoring program at the Education Center in IEP Writer, and serves on various committees within the program. Ms. Appel is excited to continue her career here at the Watson Institute.

Erin Golec, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Erin Sterling Golec has more than 20 years of teaching and supervision in Special Education. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education from Duquesne University, a Master’s Degree in Early Intervention from University of Pittsburgh, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Waynesburg University. She has been endorsed by Penn State University in Autism Education and was nominated for a Temple Grandin Award in 2012. Mrs. Golec taught at the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit prior to her position at the Watson Institute and is a member of the Council for Exceptional Children. Mrs. Golec is married and her two sons attend Penn State University.

Lisa Kellick | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Kellick has over 20 years of experience working with students with special needs, their families, and various educational entities. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education from Florida Atlantic University, her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Shippensburg University, and has Supervisor of Special Education and Principal certifications. Ms. Kellick joins the Watson Institute as a Team Coordinator at the Education Center South. 

April Kelm, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Mrs. Kelm has worked at the Watson Institute since 2016, starting her career as a Special Education Teacher at the Education Center Sewickley before transitioning into the role of Team Coordinator. Mrs. Kelm earned her undergraduate degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix, a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University, and a Master’s of Education from Carlow University specializing in Early Childhood Education and Special Education PK-8.  In 2017, Mrs. Kelm was nominated for the Temple Grandin Award and is also the co-creator of the Harbor Sleeve, a wearable sleeve which can be used by children with special needs and their educators or caregivers. Mrs. Kelm is excited to continue working with students at the Education Center!

Rayna Knox, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Mrs. Knox has worked at the Education Center Sewickley at the Watson Institute since January 2016, but was employed there during the summers of 2005-2007 for the Extended School Year program. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary/Special education from Slippery Rock University, and a Masters of Science degree in Language and Literacy from Kaplan University. Although newer to the Watson Institute, Rayna has 9 years of experience teaching special education is other settings, both in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Rayna has led professional development sessions, mentored several new teachers, was nominated twice for the Dorchester County Teacher of the Year award, and led several school wide initiatives in her previous placements. She is excited to work with the students and staff at Watson’s newest special education school, the Education Center South.

Andrea Rubin, M.A., CCC-SLP | Lead Speech Therapist

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Ms. Helman has been employed with the Watson Institute since 2011 when she took a job as a Speech Therapist at the Sewickley campus right out of graduate school. Andrea received her ungraduated degree from Geneva College and her Master’s in Speech/Language Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh. Andrea has spent her entire career at Watson working with children on the Autism Spectrum as well as children with challenging behaviors. She has presented at state and national conferences as well as given lectures on AAC at local colleges. In 2017 Andrea took over the task of placing all undergraduate and graduate student clinicians at both Education Center locations and overseeing their time at Watson. In the beginning of the 2018 school year, Andrea took over the role of Lead Speech Therapist for the Education Center Sewickley as well as Education Center South. Andrea is looking forward to continuing to serve our students as well as take on this new leadership role.

Deanna Stock, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Stock has been employed by the Watson Institute since 2005. She obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary and Special Education from Clarion University and a Master of Science Degree in Early Intervention with a specialization in Autism Spectrum Disorder from the University of Pittsburgh. Deanna has also completed coursework as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). In August 2016, Deanna transitioned into the role of Team Coordinator and is responsible for coordination IEP meetings, supervising teachers and professionals, and working collaboratively with families and local school districts. Throughout her time at Watson, Deanna has developed a passion for making a difference in the lives of students with special needs and their families. She is a certified TEACCH trainer and has organized various fundraising events for Watson such as the Autism Speaks Walk team and booth. She has developed ways to fundraise and encourages staff to participate in Spirit Sales through activities including jeans days, “The Healthiest Winner” contest, candy sales, and Watson wear clothing sales, to name a few. She has made it her priority in her professional career to help support educational programming and success in functional and community-based life skills/academic activities. Deanna is excited to continue sharing her passion for the students, families and staff in her new role!

Friendship Academy Senior Staff

Amanda Bernsdorff | Program Supervisor

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Ms. Bernsdorff has taught children with special needs since 2002. She graduated from Duquesne University with a B.S. in Education with certification in Elementary Education, Early Childhood Education and Special Education. Ms. Bernsdorff has taught students from preschool to 5th grade while she was in Virginia. When she returned to Pittsburgh, she taught at the Watson Institute’s LEAP Preschool starting in 2010. She received her Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology in 2015 and is currently finishing up her second Master’s in Supervision and Leadership. She joined the Friendship Academy family in 2019 to teach 5th to 8th grade emotional support. Ms. Bernsdorff helped set up and now oversees the kindergarten program at Friendship Academy.

Victoria Daniels, M.Ed. | Program Supervisor

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Ms. Daniels has served children and adolescents in many different service systems for more than 30 years. Prior to joining Friendship Academy, she was the Education Director for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), overseeing WPIC’s Licensed Private Academic Inpatient School Program. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Special Education K-12 (Mentally and Physically Handicapped). Ms. Daniels currently works as a Program Supervisor and Coordinator for the Extended School Year Program (ESY) at Friendship Academy.

WISCA Senior Staff

Zachary Carroll, M.Ed. | Program Supervisor

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Zachary Carroll graduated from Clarion University in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and from Slippery Rock University in 2017 with a Master’s degree in Special Education. Zach joined WISCA as the Transition Coordinator in 2017. From 2018-2020 Zach was the transition teacher for WISCA’s ESY program in Sharpsburg and the ESY program Director for WISCA Sharpsburg in 2021 and 2022. In August 2022 Zach became the supervisor WISCA Sharpsburg in addition to continuing his role as the Transition Coordinator for all three WISCA locations. Zach has previous experience as a Mental Health Worker at a residential treatment facility for youth, as a Transition Specialist at a School- to- Work program, and as an Employment Specialist through a local agency. Zach is excited to continue to work with the students, staff, parents and school districts.

Jennifer Dixon-Wagner, M.Ed. | Program Supervisor

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Jen Dixon-Wagner graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2004, and graduated from California University of Pennsylvania with a Master’s Degree in Special Education K-12 in 2010. Jen was a teacher at an Approved Private School serving students with emotional/behavioral disorders for over 2 years. She joined the WISCA program in Sharpsburg as a classroom teacher in 2013, and moved to the school’s Bridgeville location in January 2018 when the WISCA program opened classrooms there. Jen transitioned to the role of Teacher Coach in 2019, and provided support for staff in all 3 WISCA locations. Jen is now a WISCA Supervisor for the Bridgeville location and looks forward to continuing to work with the students, staff and families of the WISCA program.

Special Education Consultants

Sophia Barrett, MS

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Sophia Barrett has spent more than 20 years supporting children and adolescents with behavioral challenges and is currently employed as an education consultant at the Watson Institute. She received her undergraduate degree in Social Work from Bethany College and earned a Master’s of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from Nova South Eastern University. In her role as an education consultant at Watson, Sophia provides consultation, training and support of the PBIS model, which she developed, to school districts throughout Western Pennsylvania. Through her school-based consultations, PBIS helps provide systems to support students struggling with behavioral challenges.

Kathryn Bentz, M.Ed.

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Katie Bentz has worked in the special education field for nearly 20 years as a special education teacher at the Watson Institute’s LEAP Preschool and currently works at Watson as an Educational Consultant. Katie earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University, her Master’s Degree in Special Education from Duquesne University, and earned her certification in Early Childhood Education (PK-4) from the California University of Pennsylvania. As an early childhood education teacher, Katie has experience creating an inclusive classroom environment, implementing teaching strategies to support preschool children with autism and typically developing children, and has trained teachers in these teaching models.

Erica Caprini, M.A.

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Erica has over 15 years of experience working with families and students in various settings. She has been a psychiatric social worker for The Watson Institute Friendship Academy for more than ten years. She holds a Master of Arts Degree in Social Sciences from California University of Pennsylvania. Erica taught basic and advanced counseling courses at The University of Pittsburgh for six years in the Graduate School of Psychology and Education. She has vast experience in Family Structural Therapy and working with teens that have a dual diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and co-morbid mental health disorders. Erica currently serves as a consultant at Upper Saint Clair School District and a psychiatric social worker for the Watson Institute.

Lynne Ireland-Knight

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Lynne has been employed by the Watson Institute since 2005. She has been part of the Training and Consultation department since her hire specifically in the Community Based Instruction Program.  Lynne was hired as a Community Based Specialist and currently holds the position of Community Based Consultant. Lynne previously held the position of Transition Coordinator for the WISCA program for two years. Lynne came to Watson with 20 years of experience working with adults with disabilities in the areas of residential and employment.  Prior to moving to Pittsburgh Lynne worked for 11 years with individuals with brain injuries and their families as a Certified Brain Injury Specialist.  Lynne was part of a team that conducted a study: “Peer Support in the Community: Initial Findings of a Mentoring Program for Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury and Their Families.” The study was published in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation in 2002.

Abby Martello, M.Ed.

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Abby has more than 10 years of experience working with students in a number of educational settings and is currently an Educational Consultant at the Watson Institute. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Cleveland State University, her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from George Mason University, and completed coursework toward certification in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). Abby holds Pennsylvania certifications in Elementary (PK-4) and Special Education (PK-8) from Immaculata University. Abby has extensive experience working with students with Autism and as a behavioral support professional, implementing behavior strategies to support students with special needs.

Phillip Mauskapf, MS, MT-BC

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Phil Mauskapf has worked as a music therapist in the mental health and medical field for more than 10 years and is currently an Educational Consultant at the Watson Institute. Phil earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Pittsburgh, a Bachelor of Arts in Music Therapy from Duquesne University, and a Master’s of Science in Music Therapy from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Phil has presented on music therapy and its impact on individuals in both therapeutic and medical settings at symposiums and summits around the U.S. Throughout his career he has developed a mobile recording studio, using music creation and recording as a treatment for adolescents and children with mental health challenges. In his role at the Watson Institute, Phil works with the Duquesne City School District to provide school-based mental health support and to reduce stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Andrea Morris, M.Ed.

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Andee has worked in the field of special education for over 20 years and currently works as an educational consultant for the Watson Institute. She has a Masters of Education and M/PH Certification to work with students with mental or physical disabilities from the University of Pittsburgh. In her current role, Andrea provides training and consultation to educational teams serving students with disabilities in a variety of educational settings. Her areas of expertise include: autism and related disorders, inclusive practices, positive behavior support, naturalistic and structured teaching strategies. Prior to her work at Watson, Andee was an Early Childhood Consultant for the Early Learning Institute, Developmental Specialist for LEAP Pre-school and a Head Teacher for North Area Preschool. She has authored several journal articles and is a skilled presenter.

Teresa O’Brien, M.Ed. 

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Teresa has worked in creating and supervising programs in the education and behavioral health field for more than 15 years, she currently works as an educational consultant with the Watson Institute. Teresa has a Master’s Degree in special education, along with completed course work and supervision in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In her current role, Teresa provides training and consultation to educational teams across a variety of settings. Her work interests include: enhancing behavior analytic programing within education environments, collaborating with educators to help develop and strengthen student behavior plans, and facilitating workshops/trainings on topics related to supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. In addition, Teresa provides consultation related to classroom set up and structured teaching.

Lisa Plastino, M.Ed. 

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Lisa has worked with families, teachers and students in the field of special education for more than 25 years. She has a Masters of Education from the University of Pittsburgh. In her current position as an Educational Consultant at Watson, Lisa provides consultation and training to educational teams working with students with disabilities in a variety of settings. Her areas of expertise include: early intervention, autism and related disorders, inclusive practices, structured teaching and positive behavior supports. Prior to her work at Watson, she was a Developmental Specialist for LEAP Preschool. Lisa has also been a TEACCH trainer for a number of years and has co-authored several journal articles.