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Steel Valley 5th graders work with autistic students to create mock bologna ad

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

By Sarah Zablotsky, Tri-State Sports & News Service

Steel Valley students are hungry for Oscar Mayer bologna, or so they say.

As part of a nationwide competition, fifth-graders from Steel Valley's leadership group and elementary autistic children taped a mock commercial for Oscar Mayer bologna last week.

Marcus McGuire, left, a fifth-grade mentor, watches as autistic support teacher Maribeth Maola coaches 12-year-old Billy Stumpf, right, and 11-year-old Daniel Pittek on their part in an Oscar Mayer commercial. In the background is Herman Blue, 11. Stumpf, Pittek and Blue are autistic. (Tony Tye, Post-Gazette)

The project reflected the school district's ongoing effort to keep autistic children in the classroom with the help of fellow students -- in this case a select contingent of fifth-graders.

If their home-brew commercial video is chosen, the Steel Valley School District could be one of 51 schools in the country -- one from each state and the District of Columbia -- that will receive $10,000 toward its music

program.

The grand prize is a clip of the recording becoming part of a real Oscar Mayer commercial.

Elementary school music teacher Sharon Kampe received notice of the contest and suggested the idea to Maribeth Maola, an autistic support teacher who instructs six autistic elementary students.

Autism is a genetic disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate and socialize with peers. There are 10 autistic students in the Steel Valley district with varying needs.

"The more we can put them in a regular classroom, the better off they are," said Diana Borges, Steel Valley's director of pupil personnel and special services.

One way this is accomplished is by involving the fifth-grade leadership group organized by guidance counselor Alyson Fisher.

Teacher-nominated fifth-graders meet with the autistic students for 40 minutes every two weeks and work on fun projects while practicing behavioral skills. In past months the group has created Christmas ornaments and Valentine cards.

Both groups benefit. While the interaction allows autistic students to improve communication skills, the fifth-graders learn patience.

"They gain an understanding that kids are different," Fisher said.

Ten students are involved in the leadership program, and six participated in the mock Oscar Mayer commercial.

The group practiced for four weeks for a 3 1/2-minute spot that features forlorn students, with empty sandwiches in hand, being cheered up by the arrival of an Oscar Mayer food cart. As expected, all students sang the required Oscar Mayer jingle.

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