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Upper St. Clair special-ed students 'have a home' with design program

| Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, 9:12 p.m.
Upper St. Clair Special Education student, Tommy Kneier, 17, (right) hugs USC senior Rachel Lott, 18, (middle)  after Kneier made a USC Basketball themed T-Shirt as part of the SHOP at USC program, at Upper St. Clair High School, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Upper St. Clair Special Education student, Tommy Kneier, 17, (right) hugs USC senior Rachel Lott, 18, (middle) after Kneier made a USC Basketball themed T-Shirt as part of the SHOP at USC program, at Upper St. Clair High School, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.
Upper St. Clair student Anthony Mazzei uses a template to stamp greeting cards with help from teachers aide Denise Lehman as part of the SHOP at USC program, at Upper St. Clair High School, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Upper St. Clair student Anthony Mazzei uses a template to stamp greeting cards with help from teachers aide Denise Lehman as part of the SHOP at USC program, at Upper St. Clair High School, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.

Tom Kneier pulled down the handle of the heat-press, applying heat and pressure to transfer an “Upper St. Clair Basketball” logo onto a camouflage T-shirt as STEM teacher Stephen Stroyne walked him through it.

After giving the shirt a moment to cool, Stroyne and Kneier, 17, peeled off the plastic transfer sheet's backing, leaving a “prototype” ready for an upcoming game where all the fans are being encouraged to wear camo. Kneier, a special education student and member of the SHOP at USC program that teaches life-skills students to design, produce and sell products such as greeting cards and school-spirit wear, proudly posed with his handiwork.

“We're trying to keep some of these jobs in-house, maybe save the district and the municipality a little money,” said Michele Zirngibl, curriculum leader for the program. “At the same time, we're teaching kids job skills on equipment that's heavily utilized at job sites today.”

The SHOP at USC program, in its first year, is teaching 13 special education students to work on donated professional-level equipment, with different jobs tailored to their levels of skill. They eventually will sell the goods they produce from a small store within the school and a website, in the hopes that they will cover their costs and make the program self-sustaining by the end of its second year, Zirngibl said.

About $150,000 in donations paid for the inception of SHOP, which stands for Showing How Opportunity Pays.

Students this week were working to turn artwork each of them made into greeting cards for holidays, birthdays and graduation. They printed, cut, folded and packaged the cards — work that used to be contracted out to a FedEx print shop, special education teacher Lyn Mulroy said.

With instruction and encouragement from aide Denise Lehman, student Anthony Mazzei, 17, rolled patterned card stock through a die cut machine to make shapes for cards.

Doing the work in-house makes it easier to handle specific orders for cards, such as very small or very large batches, or parents' requests for only the cards their child designed, she said. The cards are gathered into packets tied with ribbons and a tag, noting that they were made by the SHOP students.

Next will be mass-producing T-shirts, using transfers that are designed and printed by school staff, though some of the students this week were working on computers to design shirts for an after-school program.

They'll produce banners, posters and even etched glass on laser-cutting equipment in the high school's “Fab Lab” down the hall, which has computer-guided cutting machines, power sanders and a 3-D printer.

“There will be a few (SHOP) students learning how to use this stuff, eventually,” Stroyne said while showing off the new lab's equipment. “There's always a job we can find.”

The SHOP classroom has a couple of large printers to make the banners, transfer sheets, and stickers; donors are working to secure another professional-grade printer/copier to replace an overworked inkjet printer. Counters along one side have equipment to safely cut stacks of paper, align them, fold them and bind them. Zirngibl noted that equipment could be used to produce information packets and booklets for the school district or municipal government.

“We hope to become a national model,” Zirngibl said. “It's a place where everyone can have a home, where everyone can do something.”

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

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