Category: Local News

Lenape Tech to Continue Keystone SMILES Program

Keystone SMILES AmeriCorps Autumn Lusk (left) helps a Lenape Tech student track which technical shop collected supplies to fill a backpack for homeless students during February’s “Pack Yo Bags” service project. Lusk will reapply to stay at Lenape Tech this upcoming school year after Joint Operating Committee members voted to continue participation in the program. (KP File Photo)

by Jonathan Weaver

School board members from four local districts voted last week to continue an AmeriCorps program at Lenape Tech in Manor Township during the 2016-17 school year.

Joint Operating Committee members from Apollo-Ridge, Armstrong, Freeport and Leechburg Area school districts unanimously approved to participate in the Keystone SMILES AmeriCorps program – a service-learning opportunity – at a cost not to exceed $13,700.

This year’s AmeriCorps member – Autumn Lusk, of Applewold – currently plans to re-apply for the position, but admitted plans are not “set in stone.”

“My ultimate goal is to get a full-time teaching position somewhere, but as all teaching candidates without a classroom know, the market is rather sparse,” Lusk said. “Right now, I have committed to a second year – I’m filling out my application next month.”

If Lusk is not hired in another teaching capacity, she will begin her second year at Lenape Tech August 26 and serve through July 2017.

Lusk, 27, has applied in other school districts, but she and Special Programs Coordinator Carla Thimons assessed the school year and are planning services for the 2016-17 school year if Lusk returns to Lenape Tech.

“We’re looking to a focus a little more on response to intervention and individualized tutoring, doing a little more with our sophomores as they come in and identifying early who might need some extra assistance,” Lusk said. “It’ll be a lot more academic next year, and the shop aspect is likely to focus around non-traditional students: females in male-dominated vocations and males in female-dominated vocations.

“I’m just making sure they have the support they need or seeing how we can better improve the program to be more all-inclusive.”

Lusk was Lenape Tech’s first full-year AmeriCorps member.

Lusk (center, at bottom of staircase) led students to collect enough school supplies and toiletries to fill 150 backpacks this past school year. (submitted photo)

“I think now we’re finally getting a better grasp on how Lenape and Keystone Smiles can work together to benefit the students and staff here most-effectively,” Lusk said.

One collaborative project with the ARIN IU 28 Lusk hopes to continue is the “Pack Yo Bags” outreach service project that provided backpacks of school supplies and toiletry items to students in surrounding school districts.

In February, students and community residents bought enough supplies to help more than 150 K-12 students in need. The last 50 backpacks were filled after an anonymous $2,500 check from a Pittsburgh Foundation trust.

Administrative Director Dawn Kocher-Taylor commended Lusk on that project.

“She really brought a lot of value this year, and with her teaching certificate, she was a great tutor, mentor for the students,” Kocher-Taylor said.

Lusk said students felt a lot of pride helping young people. Backpacks were given to most schools in the Armstrong School District.

In the next few weeks of her 11-month appointment, Lusk is helping faculty and staff prepare for new student orientation, aiding new incoming faculty prepare for the school year and completing paperwork for program requirements and her portfolio.

A Kiski Area High School graduate from Parks Township, Lusk earned her Master’s degree in Middle and Secondary Instruction from Edinboro University (Erie County) and her Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.