Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11: Going the Extra Mile for Families

A profile in the PAIU series, "Early Intervention Changes Lives:
Pennsylvania Families and the Intermediate Units that Serve Them"

Lizzy’s story: Help at home
When it was time for Lizzy to attend preschool, Maria Koontz admits to getting emotional. Lizzy has severe disabilities and vision impairment. Koontz, her mom, asked that Tuscarora IU 11 Early Intervention continue providing services at home once a week, so she could learn directly from therapists how best to care for her daughter.

Request granted. Koontz learned how to position Lizzy’s head so the little girl who’s normally fed by a tube could sometimes taste the pleasures of food by mouth. She learned to perform range-of-motion stretches that help Lizzy get exercise and stay healthy.

“I’d never even heard of range-of-motion exercises,” says Koontz with a laugh. “They showed me how to do it, and the right way, so I felt comfortable.”

Early Intervention staff loaned the family, of the Huntingdon County town of Hesston, much of the specialized equipment Lizzy needs. They helped Koontz choose Lizzy’s first wheelchair-stroller from a dizzying array of choices. “They went out of their way for us,” says Koontz.

Today, Lizzy is 6 and attending the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. She loves to watch her brothers play. She loves music – “upbeat, classical, she likes it all.” She laughs and giggles during jogging-stroller excursions with her mom.

The family is “really grateful to Early Intervention,” says Koontz. “Lizzy is getting the best quality of life that she can.”

Tuscarora IU 11: Finding a child’s best place
Every challenge has a solution at Tuscarora IU 11. Lizzy’s services were delivered in conjunction with the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, says Supervisor of Special Education Fran Merrifield. The arrangement provided Lizzy the sophisticated services she needed in Pittsburgh while helping the family stay connected to their rural hometown.

Other children receive the same individualized attention. Tuscarora IU 11’s reverse mainstream preschool classes, enrolling disabled and typical children in the same classrooms, earns “rave reviews.”

“Our typically developing preschoolers children become their role models,” says Merrifield. “They can talk. They can count. They have nice behavior skills. Our children with special needs thrive and grow while learning side by side with their peers.”

IU 11 Early Intervention program also embeds an EI classroom in the Early Childhood Education Center on the Juniata College campus. Here, student teachers work directly with children and learn from IU 11 and ECEC co-teachers.

“It’s a collaborative relationship,” says Merrifield. “Because we’re small and rural and not a big city, we know the people that we’re dealing with and can really work together to create innovative solutions in our preschool classrooms for all children.

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