NEW BETHLEHEM and RIMERSBURG – Continuing what is becoming an annual tradition, state Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) last week visited two more area schools to get a firsthand look at education in Pennsylvania.
Joined by Mark Ferrara, advocacy ambassador for the Pennsylvania School Board Association, Oberlander toured the campuses of Union High School and Redbank Valley High School and Primary School on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
“I’m at our schools a lot,” Oberlander said last week. She noted that she and Ferrara often coordinate visits to the schools in her district to keep in touch with the needs, concerns and progress of the schools. “Last year, we went to Clarion [Area] and Clarion-Limestone.”
While her visits just normally include a meeting with district officials, Oberlander said she enjoyed having the opportunity to tour the buildings on both campuses and see some of the programs they offer.
“It was interesting and fun to actually tour their schools and see what innovative programs they are hosting and the things they are doing,” she said.
Oberlander got to observe the creative side of Union High School during her visit, as she spent time with students and faculty in the art and industrial arts programs.
“It’s too cool,” Oberlander said of the art department’s annual Christmas display that will adorn the main lobby at the high school. The theme of this year’s display is Shrek the Halls.
“[The students] have to collaborate on what the project is, who’s doing what and how they’re doing it,” she continued. “It was fun to watch.”
From there, Oberlander moved to Union’s industrial arts classroom, where she donned a virtual reality headset and got to experience the sensation of walking out onto a plank.
“It was really awesome,” she said. “They’re using that [technology] to teach life skills and things like that.”
Following her stop at Union, Oberlander traveled to Redbank Valley High School, where district superintendent Dr. John Mastillo highlighted security upgrades at the building — including the recent installation of the new Raptor visitor tracking system — and the district’s ongoing quest for grants for additional security upgrades.
Oberlander’s final stop on her tour was Redbank Valley Primary School. While there, Oberlander said she was impressed with how well the school was restored following the July flooding.
“These outstanding individuals were able to bring this building back from flood status to school-ready in such short order, and they did it right and well,” she said.
Oberlander noted that the “coolest” part about her visit at the primary school was getting to see and test out the building’s new sensory room and hallway.
“The sensory room is really cool,” she said. “Seeing how it’s used and what’s happening to integrate all our kiddos is really impressive.”
According to elementary principal Cheryl McCauley, both the sensory room and hallway are new to the primary school this year.
“The sensory hallway that the kindergartners and some of the older kids use was put in after the flood,” McCauley said of the colorful and fun walkway that combines learning with a series of exercises to help with the development of motor skills such as balance, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and more.
“Kids come with all kinds of sensory needs,” she added, noting that even the best students enjoy utilizing the sensory hallway as a break from the grind of the school day. “They’re using it, and it seems to really help.”
In addition to the hallway, McCauley also showed Oberlander the new sensory room used by students who experience a “sensory overload” and need a calm space away from the hustle and bustle of the classroom or general school environment.
Also available to students with developmental needs, McCauley said the sensory room was designed with special lighting and visual, auditory and tactile stimulators to help children calm down from over stimulating situations.
“It’s a nice room; I just wish we had more space,” she said. “It’s a good start, [but] there’s a lot more we could do.”
Although her visit was brief, Redbank officials said they were glad to be able to share some of the district’s highlights with Oberlander.
“It was a good visit,” McCauley said. “Although I wish we could have spent more time, they [Oberlander and Ferrara] got to see some of the new things that we have, and we got to talk about some important things.”