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Watson Institute opens South Fayette center

| Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, 6:45 p.m.
Stacy Hurt and her son, Emmett, 10, participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Watson Institute's South Fayette campus on Hickory Grade Road on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Emmett, who was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality, has been a student at Watson Institute's Sewickley campus since 2008 and will now attend the closer South Fayette location.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Stacy Hurt and her son, Emmett, 10, participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Watson Institute's South Fayette campus on Hickory Grade Road on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Emmett, who was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality, has been a student at Watson Institute's Sewickley campus since 2008 and will now attend the closer South Fayette location.

Since 2008, 10-year-old Emmett Hurt has spent 45 minutes each school day on a bus ride from his South Fayette home to the Watson Institute in a community just outside of Sewickley.

Now, Emmett — who is one of three known individuals in the world with a chromosomal abnormality so rare that it does not have a name — lives 10 minutes from his new school — the Watson Institute Education Center South, which celebrated its opening Jan. 18 at the Hickory Grade Road campus in South Fayette.

The 47,000-square-foot facility will service 75 students who originally attended the Watson Institute's Leet campus near Sewickley.

Emmett will receive physical, occupational, speech and vision therapies, and will participate in gym, music, art and library classes at the new school.

“He has motion sickness, so each time I put him on that van I worried for his well-being,” his mother Stacy Hurt said. She and Emmett helped celebrate the Watson Institute's new school by cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony. “Now, I have peace of mind to know that he's so close. I don't have to worry about his safety. I can drive him in and pick him up if he gets sick or has a doctor's appointment.

“We've lived in South Fayette for 20 years and I'm so proud to be a South Fayette resident to know that they're committed to children like Emmett. They care about children with special needs.”

Planning for the facility began at the end of 2013 when the Watson Institute location in Leet had to rent a building in Ambridge to fully service its 260 students.

“Seventy-some of those students came from southern school districts,” said Chief Operating Officer Marilyn Hoyson. “We wanted to allow for their education to be closer to home. It's nicer for the students and their families that they don't have to travel very far now.”

The Leet location still services 180 students. The new Education Center South will employ around 40 people. The Watson Institute consults with local school districts and families who have exhausted all resources in a public school environment.

??What we have found when our students come here is almost an immediate sense of community and a genuine caring for them and an embracing of the needs that they have,” said Canon-McMillan Superintendent Mike Daniels, who spent 15 years in special education. “I have found there to be top-notch professionalism and specialized programming delivered by highly-qualified personnel who each have a special heart to provide the ultimate care for our students and their families.”

The Watson Institute also operates from locations in Pittsburgh and Sharpsburg, and serves students from across 80 school districts in the tri-state region.

The most rewarding aspect for families like the Hurts is the normalcy received at Watson, Stacy Hurt said.

“He really gets to feel like a typical kid,” Stacy Hurt said. “The progress that we've seen over eight years is extraordinary. He's just blossoming. It's all because of Watson. He's in the right place with the right people.”

Matthew Peaslee is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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