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Upper St. Clair students to fine-tune business skills

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:02 p.m.

Upper St. Clair school officials want to make entrepreneurs out of students in the high school's life-skills program, with a multi-year plan for them to make and sell school-branded goods such as cards, shirts and banners.

Called “Showing How Opportunity Pays” or SHOP at USC, the program will expand upon the greeting cards that special education students at the high school design and sell each year, said Deputy Superintendant Sharon Suritsky.

Instead of sending the designs to an outside print shop, the district will purchase printing equipment and teach students how to use it, expanding their skills and adding more cards, signs and banners to their product lineup.

“This has been my dream for the last 16 years,” said Michele Zirngibl, chairwoman of the special education department. “Our goal is to have the students develop and run their own business.”

Students would work with teachers to develop business plans, deciding what to sell and how to produce it, Suritsky said.

Suritsky and Zirngibl presented the program recently to the school board, and the district is raising money to buy equipment for SHOP to begin in the fall.

About 15 to 25 students with disabilities are expected to participate.

In the second year, the program would be expanded to include making other “spirit items” such as school T-shirts. Students would sell items out of a “store” within the high school, using additional equipment paid with their profits and donations from the public. By the third year, Suritsky said, she hoped the kids would run an online store to sell their wares around the country.

At the store and at a traveling kiosk that could be moved around the school and special events, special education students would be able to work alongside mainstream students, giving them a preview of the real-world work environment, Zirngibl said.

“If we can get there, this is definitely preparing them for what's to come in the future,” she said.

Sheila Gorgonio, Upper St. Clair's director of advancement, said the program had a pledge of a $100,000 toward the anticipated $150,000 it would cost to purchase the printing equipment for the first year.

SHOP would share some equipment with the district's new fabrication lab, using machines such as a large-format printer to produce wares, Suritsky said.

Sara McCluan, spokeswoman for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said the AIU's three schools for special needs students sometimes sell items made by students, but usually on a much smaller scale at fundraisers and craft shows.

At Mt. Lebanon High School, life-skills students bake and sell cookies and cakes from a traveling cart through the “341 Catering” program, which took its name from the classroom they partly converted into a kitchen.

“It's very different from anything we've done before, and very different from anything else I've seen out there,” Suritsky said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

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