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Easter Seals of Western Pennsylvania opens new facility in Murrysville

| Friday, March 16, 2007

Monday will mark the start of Week 3 for Easter Seals of Western Pennsylvania's new school in Murrysville.

The facility was designed with education of 3- to 8-year-old special-needs children in mind, says Tina Outrich, vice president of programs for the organization. It is one of four schools in the Pittsburgh region and is serving 13 students, with room for five more.

"Our lease was up where we were," Outrich said. "When I started to look at new space, I came up with a geographic area where the children were that we were serving. Murrysville was part of that circle."

The Easter Seals of Western Pennsylvania Linda Lanham Zeszutek School Program was relocated to Murrysville after 13 years in North Versailles. It is an approved private school licensed by the Pennsylvania Board of Private Academic Schools. Its programs are approved by the state secretary of education through the state bureau of special education.

The program is named for Linda Lenham Zeszutek, the mother of a now-grown child who participated in Easter Seals programs.

Outrich said because Easter Seals was working with an empty shell at the Triangle Lane site off Route 22, it was able to consult an architect to design a facility to its liking. Plenty of natural light is one element to be found.

Another is ample space, says Patty Braendle, director of education for the organization.

"Clearly the biggest focus we wanted was much larger classrooms," Braendle said. "The children and the teachers are so ecstatic with their space. It's just phenomenal, it really is."

There are three classrooms in the building, along with a physical and occupational therapy room.

The programs offered at the school serve children with physical and neurological issues including autism, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Instruction is offered utilizing a broad range of staff at the facility, including teachers and assistants, physical and occupational, and speech language therapists, a school nurse and adaptive physical education instruction, Outrich said.

Children can join the program at any time during the year, and become eligible when they turn 3. Outrich said the goal is to prepare a child for advancement into the next level of private school or for interaction in the public school system.

"Each child has their own individual education plan," she said. "The plan tells us which staff each child needs."

Easter Seals of Western Pennsylvania also operates schools to the north and south of Pittsburgh as well as one on the city's South Side. The South Side facility focuses on autistic children, while the other sites serve children with a variety of special needs.

Tiffany Mori, intake social services manager for the organization, provides tours of all the Easter Seals facilities and works with parents and guardians of children who may be candidates for the program.

"We are very excited to be out in Westmoreland County," Mori said, explaining that Easter Seals offers a "more intensive program than a typical preschool."

Braendle said work is continuing on a new playground at the site.

Outrich said the organization has a 10-year lease for the Murrysville building, with an option for five more years.

Easter Seals of Western Pennsylvania serves more than 19,000 people each year in 19 counties. Programs for persons with special needs run from infant and toddler evaluation and care through adult day care services.

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