• March 22, 2017
    SHOP@USC wins top national award

    SHOP@USC Upper St. Clair School District has been selected as one of three national Grand Prize Winners in the 23rd annual Magna Awards program sponsored by the National School Boards Association’s magazine, American School Board Journal. Specifically, Upper St. Clair is being recognized for its SHOP@USC program.

    The Magna Awards recognize school districts and their leaders for taking bold and innovative steps to improve the lives of their students and their communities.

    SHOP@USC is a pioneering, student-run business, which operates fully through the collaboration between students with significant disabilities and their same age peers without disabilities. Within SHOP, students produce and sell greeting cards, business cards, signs/banners, laser-engraved items and USC spirit wear merchandise.

    “SHOP@USC is a truly unique program, which has impacted the lives of many students,” Dr. Sharon Suritsky, deputy/assistant superintendent, said. “SHOP combines the best of inclusionary programming with best practices from STEAM and technology.”

    SHOP is an acronym for Showing How Opportunity Pays. Established in the 2014-15 school year, the program currently serves 38 students – 17 of whom are part of the school’s Life Skills Support program with various special needs and abilities.

    “We have a makerspace where students from our Life Skills Support program are partnered up with students from the general student body and together they create, design, fabricate and market a variety of products,” Mrs. Michelle Zirngibl, SHOP@USC coordinator, said. “Students are receiving valuable experiences in fabrication as well as sales. In addition, it’s the soft skills such as teamwork, communication, professionalism and enthusiasm that students also gain experiences in learning. Whether you are a student with autism who needs to practice appropriate social skills or a student who is college-bound wanting to experience a work environment, there is something to be gained for everyone.”

    When the program first began, Mrs. Zirngibl knew it would improve the social and vocational skills of students in the Life Skills Support program. However, the level of impact was unexpectedly profound.

    “I knew that offering SHOP@USC would be an outstanding social opportunity for our students in the Life Skills Support program, but what I didn't expect were the unconditional friendships that would develop between them outside of the classroom,” Mrs. Zirngibl said. “They have made dinner plans on the weekends; get groups together at school events to take ‘SHOP’ pictures for Homecoming, Prom, Senior cruise, etc.; and plan fun recreational time.”

    In just a few short years, SHOP@USC has made a big impact on the school and, most importantly, its students – with and without disabilities.

    “When I see our partner students advocating for our students with special needs, I know it is making a difference,” Mrs. Zirngibl said. “When graduates contact us to report how college is going and that they joined the Best Buddies program on their campus or changed their major because of their experience in SHOP, we know it’s been impactful. SHOP@USC is a powerful program in so many ways.”

    When asked what they liked best about SHOP@USC, overwhelmingly students focused on forming friendships. Some of their responses included: working with kids and seeing them excel at things, learning their talents, the unique friendship, forming close relationships and working with the kids and seeing their abilities.

    SHOP@USC is one component of the Innovation Hub @ Upper St. Clair High School, which also includes an MIT-certified FAB Lab. The program was made possible through more than $250,000 in generous monetary and in-kind contributions from founding donors Frank and Terry Ross; Dr. Howard and Mrs. Marcy Edington; Carol J. Dunn; Mr. & Mrs. William G. Ball; Amcom Office Systems; Mark A. Karenchak of Snyder Brothers, Inc.; the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair; and the USC High School PTSO. In addition, community business leaders have provided expertise and consultation including Frank Schuler, Andy Lantzman and others. Subsequently, donations from other community members and organizations have continued to enable SHOP@USC to expand its fabrication capabilities and opportunities for students.

    “SHOP@USC is an extraordinary and transformational program that simply would not have been possible without private support,” Dr. Patrick T. O’Toole said. “We are so very grateful for the kindness and support of our community partners that share our vision and are willing/able to offer their assistance.”

    Following the success of the high school’s SHOP@USC program, plans are underway to expand the concept to Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools.

    An independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators selected the 2017 Magna Award winners from nearly 200 submissions.

    “Creativity and innovation are needed to help students realize their full potential,” Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA executive director and CEO, said. “The Magna Award-winning districts are prime examples of how public schools all over the country are working to give students a high-quality education and life.”

    In addition to the Grand Prize Winner, there are five first place winners and five honorable mention winners within each of the three enrollment categories: under 5,000 students, 5,000 to 20,000 students, and over 20,000 students.

    As the Grand Prize Winner in the under 5,000 students category, Upper St. Clair School District’s SHOP@USC program is highlighted in the April 2017 issue of the American School Board Journal magazine and will receive a $5,000 contribution. All 33 award-winning school districts will be formally recognized during a special presentation at NSBA’s 77th Annual Conference, March 25-27, 2017, in Denver.

    This marks Upper St. Clair School District’s second Magna Award recognition from the National School Boards Association. In 2013, the district was named a first place winner for its Student Leadership Academy, which helps students understand how they can change the world through their leadership.