Baldwin special needs students get up to speed in public transit
The majority of special needs students at Baldwin High School will take public transportation only a handful of times.
The option of independently taking public transportation for those few is just one more skill to enrich his or her life.
“A lot of these students have never rode a bus,” said Michael Beigay, a travel instructor with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. “One or two (of the students) will become independent travelers.”
Beigay is working with those students at Baldwin High School during the spring semester to teach them travel options, rules for safety and, for some, to break down myths about how people with special needs use transportation, he said.
About 30 of the school's special needs students toured a Port Authority bus on March 19 to see what it's like and to practice safety and etiquette skills.
For the next several weeks, the students will plan two trips — one to a shopping center to use transit and pedestrian skills, and one to downtown Pittsburgh, using the Port Authority bus and trolley services, Beigay said.
“We've given them the options that are out there,” Beigay said.
Beigay meets with the students one day a week throughout the spring semester, he said. The curriculum, so far, built up to the bus tour, teaching the students vocabulary, transportation and pedestrian rules, as well as transit options such as the Port Authority's bus, light rail vehicles or ACCESS, a door-to-door program that mostly serves senior citizens and people with disabilities.
He also works with students one-on-one in a separate class to get them traveling independently. Last year, Beigay helped a Baldwin senior learn the bus schedule, and now he takes it from his home in Whitehall to his job at Mercy Hospital every day, Beigay said.
“It's been a nice resource for the students,” said Eric Jankoski, transition services director for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District. “It's been great. I know the students have responded well to that.”
Transportation goals also are part of the students' individualized education program when addressing life skills, Jankoski said.
Deborah Skillings, community outreach coordinator for the Port Authority, and Scott Pearson, an instructor with the Port Authority, said the organization works to ensure equal and easy access to public transportation for all potential riders. The authority also has the Committee for Accessible Transportation advisory group, which reviews accessibility initiatives, Skillings said.
“They're our riders,” Skillings said. “They're going to be working. They're going to be living out in the community.”
Pearson led the students in a tour of the bus's features, showing Hope Hines, who uses a wheelchair, how to use the ramp to enter, where to position herself inside and how to stay immobile while the bus moves. He also reviewed the rules: No talking on cell phones, playing music without headphones, carrying open food or drinks or putting feet on the seats.
Pearson also assured the students that if they had questions, they could ask the operator. The students practiced pulling the stop request signals and using the payment collection machine.
One of the students, Zach Dingfelder, said he enjoyed the tour and was looking forward to planning and going on the class trips.
Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.