The excitement could be felt around the Watson Institute’s Education Center South in South Fayette.
Not only was a new school year beginning but, thanks to Pirates Charities, the school had new adaptive equipment to help promote physical fitness among students.
“It’s like kids in a candy store,” said program Director Michele Trettel of the eagerness felt by staff and students to use the new equipment.
A grant from Pirates Charities provided the school with a new commercial-grade treadmill, elliptical and fan favorite Tumble Forms Jetmobile that allows students to lie on their backs or stomachs and move on their own when they otherwise might not be able to.
“It’s so beneficial,” said Marty Dattilo, adaptive physical education teacher. “This movement really helps them, especially when they head back to the classroom after exercising for 30 minutes. It can really help them just settle down.”
The Watson Institute provides special education services for students up to 21 years old at its four schools. The Watson Institute’s Education Center South, which opened in 2017, serves students with a variety of needs including those with autism spectrum disorder, emotional and behavioral challenges and other developmental disabilities and neurological impairments.
Even before Watson opened its South school, a partnership with Pirates Charities had already blossomed, said Kara Mostowy, chief development officer at Watson.
Knowing they were moving into the area, Watson sought to partner with the Miracle League of the South Hills, whose motto is “Every Child Deserves a Chance to Play Baseball.”
It was through that partnership they developed a connection with Pirates Charities, which serves as a sponsor for the Miracle League of South Hills.
Watson invited representatives from Pirates Charities to tour the facilities with the idea of forming a partnership.
“We want to be a community program,” Mostowy said.
The partnership has “evolved” and “taken on a lot of different forms,” she said.
As the Pirates strive to make baseball more inclusive to everyone, they sought the expertise of a Watson staffer in reviewing which autism kits were best.
Pirates Charities have provided parties in Watson’s schools for kids who can’t get to the ballpark. They’ve sent the Pirate Parrot or the Pierogies to celebrate at the schools.
A donor works with Watson and Pirates Charities to make a VIP suite available to about 75 parents, kids and staff in order to attend a game, Mostowy said. Often times, it’s the first game for the kids.
“That’s the beauty of our partnership, is every year it looks a little bit different,” she said.
In an emailed statement, Patty Salerno, senior vp of Community and Public Affairs and executive director of Pirates Charities, said the organization was honored to provide a grant to the Watson Institute.
“We know how important this is to the children at Watson, as it will enhance their physical activity and motor planning. It was especially gratifying that the apparatus was Pirates-themed,” she said. “We hope the children at the Watson Institute will enjoy using this new equipment for many years to come.”
At Watson’s Education Center South, there are a wide range of students, some for whom exercise is more challenging and others who don’t need much support for physical activity, Trettel said. New equipment that would meet both those needs was needed.
Typically, when Watson looks for equipment, they’ll ask around to see if anyone has an old treadmill they’d be willing to donate.
Their old treadmill was manual, while the old Jetmobile was well-loved and covered in duct tape.
Adapted physical education class is offered once a week and is individualized to meet each student’s needs. The equipment can be used any time during the week when teachers know some exercise may be helpful for their students.
Dattilo said he hopes his students can take the skills they learn in gym class and use them in real life, so they can continue exercising.
The goal of gym class is to get the students moving. Sometimes, that takes some convincing. But staff gets creative and will use tools, such as playing music, to get kids moving.
When they’re on the treadmill by themselves or spinning around at rocket speed on the Jetmobile, they have an independence that they might not otherwise get, Trettel said.
Movement helps to ground the students, she said. Many students at the school also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, so for them to focus, they need to be stimulated, she said. Some students learn better while they’re moving so they work while in the gym.
The new equipment is more durable and has more support for the students, which will help if they have balance issues, Trettel said.
“If we can promote that physical health, physical well-being, and having fun while doing it,” she said, these are skills the kids will hopefully carry on into adulthood.