At the Watson Institute’s special education schools, staff work with our students to ensure they are meeting their educational goals as outlined in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Staff also highlight the importance of helping students with special needs develop and expand their vocational and life skills through participation in philanthropic activities.
A few times a year, these types of IEP activities are created to also support charitable activities to teach the importance of supporting the local community and citizenship.
Throughout the school year, students and staff at Watson’s schools have given back to our community through a variety of fundraising activities. Participation in service learning is an important way to teach our students that they can affect positive change in their community and further helps develop their self-esteem and social skills.
As one special education teacher at Friendship Academy put it, “this is a great way to develop empathy which is a very necessary characteristic that our students need to display. If we can teach them to feel for others then we can help them develop a better self-concept and see themselves as human beings who do good things in this world.”
Students with Special Needs Support Community
Community involvement is a key to developing vocational and life skills and is taught partly through projects such as an annual fundraiser for a local animal shelter, fundraising efforts for disaster relief organizations, and service learning projects.
Here are a few of the ways Watson students and staff showed support for our communities:
- At the Education Center South, classrooms held a Penny War to raise money which is being donated to the American Red Cross to support the disaster relief efforts following hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Students, staff and families got into the spirit of the Penny War and through their efforts raised over $800!
- Staff at the Education Center Sewickley hosted a jeans day fundraiser and brought in over $200 which will also be donated to the American Red Cross disaster relief operations fund.
- At Friendship Academy, a Watson special education school for students with emotional and behavioral health challenges, community service has become a core focus each month. Special education teacher, Samantha Vasy, and social worker, Vanessa Veltre, teamed up to launch a monthly service project encouraging students to brainstorm the various causes and ways in which they will support the cause for each month.For example: For breast cancer awareness month, Ms. Vasy’s class chose to dedicate their monthly efforts to supporting the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the fight against breast cancer. Many students and staff at Friendship Academy have loved ones battling cancer so they decided to sell pink ribbons which the students made and placed on a tree display in the school hallway. Throughout breast cancer awareness month, staff and families were able to purchase their ribbons, and through this sale, the students raised $185 which they presented to the Susan G. Komen Foundation in person.
- At the WISCA special education school, the passing of a student’s beloved service dog, Sophia became the inspiration for a charitable activity. Students and staff collect pet-themed items such as food, toys, treats, bedding and bowls, as well as leashes and other items, to donate to Animal Friends – along with collected monetary donations. As part of this charitable activity, the WISCA students plan to make fleece blankets which will be donated to Humane Animal Rescue in Sophia’s memory.
Life Skills Classroom Fundraiser for Animal Rescue
Students in Gabrielle Sikora’s Life Skills classroom at the Education Center Sewickley chose the Humane Animal Rescue organization in Pittsburgh as the beneficiary of their charitable efforts.
In recent years, students have made tug-of-war toys, a popular choice for dog lovers. This particular life skills learning project was geared towards animal lovers of all kinds. Students elected to make bowties which could be worn by dogs, cats, or even rabbits! The bowties were made in a variety of colors and sizes to fit each animal’s unique personality.
Making the bowties presented the opportunity for students with special needs to practice the goals for following instructions and completing tasks. Fulfilling the orders also gave students the chance to work on packaging, checking the order form, and for some buyers inside of the school, delivering the bowties to the correct classroom or office!
Order forms were circulated throughout the Watson Institute schools and sent home with the students so their families could participate. Also, to showcase the bowties, Gabrielle and her team came up with the hashtag: #WatsonTiesforLives and encouraged buyers to share photos of their animals on social media wearing their bowtie and tagging them with this hashtag.
Through the generous support of Watson families, staff and community supporters, the students were able to raise more than $1,100 for Humane Animal Rescue this year which will support the spaying and neutering of shelter animals.
Students in Gabrielle’s class also had the opportunity to present their donation in person during a field trip to the Humane Animal Rescue location in Pittsburgh’s North Shore. The students had the chance to interact with cats, birds, bunnies and dogs at the Animal Rescue. Field trips like these also provide excellent teaching opportunities for Watson students learning functional tasks and life skills.
If you want to learn more about the Watson Institute, check out our special education school programs!