Seneca Valley student makes request to school board

January 8, 2019 Cranberry Local News


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JACKSON TWP — A Seneca Valley junior proposed a swim program for students with special needs at Monday night's school board meeting.

Gianna Petrella, a varsity swimmer at Seneca Valley, wants to marry her love of swimming and interest in volunteering with children who have special needs — specifically blind children. Gianna said she was most inspired to work with these children after finding that many specialized swim lessons are very expensive. She said she didn't want these children to be at a disadvantage due to the cost.

With her passion for swimming and helping special needs children, she decided to create a program for them to learn.

Gianna has worked with the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children and Riverside High School to develop the program.

After her first successful summer with seven students in the program, she expanded it to teach other swim instructors how to volunteer these services and meet the specific needs of these children as they learn to swim.

Gianna's program includes individualized goals and swim lesson plans for each child involved with an emphasis on safety and fun.

“No two children are alike,” she said, “so, no two goals and no two lessons are alike.”

The children she has served, she said, have all been successful in their learning goals and have shown great interest in continuing to develop their swimming skills.

The program she proposed to the school board includes the use of Seneca Valley's facilities for 45 minutes on Saturdays to aid these lessons.

In closing, Gianna read a bit of an essay she wrote about the enthusiasm she has for her program.

“What if we gave children with special needs a chance?” Gianna proposed. “What if we always saw what they could do, not what they couldn't do? Imagine what they could accomplish.”

Superintendent Tracy Vitale congratulated Gianna for the success she has experienced, but used the opportunity to make a broader point about the importance of encouraging students like her to pursue their passions.

“More important than her success story is how she's changing the countless lives of children and families,” Vitale said.

Board members said they were eager to hear more about potential developments in the program.

The board also heard a presentation from Matthew McKinley about new courses and curriculum changes coming to the high school to improve “career cluster” components and specialized options.

Linda Andreassi, Seneca Valley's communications director, also reminded school board and community members that there will be classes on Feb. 15 for the first snow makeup day of the year.