Grant allows Mars program to grow

Life skills taught to students with special needs

June 19, 2019 Cranberry Local Sports


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Polly Novotny and Mia Ola play a game in the life skills room at Mars High School. Mars teacher Samantha Flanhofer recently was awarded a $26,670 grant from the Bernita Buncher Educational Advancement Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation to create a new Practical Assessment Exploration System room in the school.

ADAMS TWP — In its first full year, a program at Mars High School providing a life skills room and coffee shop area for students with special needs to learn how to live independently has been a rousing success.

That program will get even bigger next year due to a newly secured grant.

Mars teacher Samantha Flanhofer recently wrote and was awarded a $26,670 grant from the Bernita Buncher Educational Advancement Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation to create a new Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) room in the school.

The program aims to give students functional skills that can be used in real careers. The hands-on curriculum provides basic career and life skills training, assessments of career skills, exploration of different types of careers and guidance on work behavior.

Mars High School students and staff pause for a photo in the life skills room. Front row, from left, are Luigi Lista-Brenza, Trevor Relue, Claire Nailler, Dorothy Mae Thornton and Mia Ola. Back row are Cheri Pistner, Jacob Wright, Hunter Lawther, Jeannie Caffro, Samantha Flanhofer and Polly Novotny.

The room itself will have a lab-like feel, allowing students to solve problems, develop work relationships and test their skills in timed challenges. The program focuses on skills for jobs in the consumer service industry, business and marketing, processing and production, construction and industrial, and computer technology.

Flanhofer said school officials are determining where the room will be located, and it will be ready when students return to school in the fall.

The grant comes a little more than a year after Flanhofer received a $21,554 grant from the Jack Buncher Foundation for the creation of a life skills room at the high school.

That room offers students a chance to master tasks that will help them live independently after leaving school. The life skills room contains a fully functioning apartment, including a bathroom, laundry area, kitchen, family area and bedroom. Students learn everything from cooking dinner to cleaning a shower.

Mars High School students play a game in the school's life skills room. Pictured are Luigi Lista-Brenza, Jacob Wright, Lawther and Trevor Relue. J.W. Johnson Jr./CRANBERRY Eagle

To “pay rent” for the apartment, students work in a second room down the hall that houses the Rocket Fuel Cafe coffee shop. There, they take orders and serve their fellow students and staff. With the “Mars Money” earned on the job, students also pay bills, such as electric and cable, which they mail through an in-house postal service.

Flanhofer said a recent audit of the first year of the program showed it has been a success, with students showing progress in a number of areas. She said she is thrilled to expand the program, with all three classrooms intertwined.

Superintendent Wesley Shipley said the programs combined will help expand the district's ability to prepare students for life outside the classroom.

“Our goal is to provide students with the requisite skill set to transition from school to the workplace or additional education if desired,” he said.

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J.W.  Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr. is the bureau chief of the Cranberry Eagle. Johnson is a native of Bellaire, Ohio, and graduated from Bellaire High School in 2004. He is a 2009 graduate of Ohio University in Athens with a bachelor of specialized studies degree in English and journalism. While there, he served as a reporter and editor at The Post, the university’s student-run, independent newspaper. In 2009, he was hired as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, W.Va. Over the course of eight years, he also served as Marshall County bureau chief, city editor and news editor. He also won two first place West Virginia Press Association Awards for his reporting and design work. He and his wife, Maureen, live in Carnegie.