This spring, 28 students graduated from the six Pressley Ridge Schools, along with dozens
more youth from our foster care, community-based and residential programs. These
students have experienced varying degrees of adversity in their young lives, yet through hard
work and determination, they have succeeded.
Kira, who recently transitioned to independent living from Pressley Ridge foster care, is just
one of this year’s commendable stories. Throughout high school, Kira maintained straight A’s
while working part time and taking free online college courses. She graduated with honors
from Hamilton High School and will attend Miami University Hamilton in the fall, where she
was awarded nearly $100,000 in scholarships and plans to study forensic investigation.
Steve came to Pressley Ridge Day School Johnstown at the age of 12 with a diagnosis of
Selective Mutism. He struggled with academics, refused to participate in group activities,
ignored instruction and became physically aggressive. In his eight years at the school, he
made great strides and eventually began responding verbally in class, making friends and even
participating in a school-to-work program at REI, where he now hopes to secure full-time
employment. Steve's mother proudly boasts, "Pressley Ridge has been a life saver. I now get
to see my son, whom I never expected to graduate, not only graduate, but with the highest
grades…and the opportunity to go on and further his education.
There are many more shining examples of success in the Pressley Ridge Class of 2017, and we are
proud of how far they have come. No matter where they are headed, we wish them the best of luck.
An afternoon coffee break is a daily routine for many. For the staff working at Pressley Ridge’s Pittsburgh Campus – which includes the Day School Pittsburgh and the School for Autism – their coffee break is much more meaningful.
Three days each week, students from the Pressley Ridge School for Autism (PRSA) operate a coffee shop on campus. On the surface, the PRSA Coffee Shop offers a welcome service to the staff in the form of beverages and snacks, but it’s the students who run the shop who benefit much more than the customers.
The coffee shop is a therapeutic environment where the students learn valuable social and vocational skills, including appropriate work place etiquette. The are four jobs: greeter, snack stand, barista and cashier. Each job has specific expectations that vary based upon the individual student’s needs and abilities, which increases the students’ chance for success.
The use of meaningful Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) in the coffee shop is encouraged. AAC includes various methods of supplementing or replacing speech to convey wants and needs. When a student uses any form of AAC, a unique vocabulary is developed for communication in the work environment, which promotes communication in settings outside of the classroom. Group conversations are led by PRSA’s Speech-Language Pathologist, and social language and the art of “small talk” become a byproduct of the work environment.
Though staff are closely monitoring, students working in the coffee shop are given the least intrusive level of prompting to promote independence. The staff are also able to identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses, which can be used to develop a work-biography to be passed on to future placements.
For our students, the PRSA Coffee Shop is an important stepping stone between a highly structured therapeutic environment and the real world, and it is just one of the many ways we prepare our students for life after Pressley Ride.
The children of Pressley Ridge are big fans of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins – both on and off the ice. Over the past five years, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation has supported our kids with nearly $75,000 in financial contributions that have provided art therapy and educational tools for children and young adults with autism. During the most recent NHL season, groups of Pressley Ridge kids from Pittsburgh and Johnstown, PA, Morgantown, WV and Western Maryland were treated to the unique experience of watching a game from the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin Charity Suites. One youth said, "Thank you for giving me one of the best Christmases ever. Seeing the Penguins was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me." One lucky group of kids not only got to experience a Peng-win, they also sat next to Christina Aguilera, who graciously took time to take photos with our kids! We are so grateful to the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation for their continued support of our kids and families.
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