Ribbon cutting, special bikes mounted, abundant smiles at LIU’s new “flagship”
PLAINS TWP. – The Lucerne Middle Unit showcased its new Lighthouse Academy with a ribbon cutting on Thursday, but the free giveaway of child-friendly bikes and strollers who were able to stage a parade in their new wheels stole the show.
The ribbon cutting marked the culmination of years of effort to purchase and convert a dilapidated former Army Reserve building into what is now LIU’s “Lighthouse Academy”, bringing together various programs that the agency offers students with special needs in Luzerne County and southern Wyoming County.
The building’s transformation was on full display in a pre-ribbon cutting ceremony held in what had been a giant grease-stained garage, now spotlessly clean, a gleaming multi-purpose hall that could be used as a gym or of cafeteria, with a folding wall hidden but ready to divide the space in two.
Two state senators and several representatives joined a large representation of school district administrators and school board members to mark the moment, as well as administrators and staff from LIU, an agency that provides a variety of services to 12 districts and private/parochial schools that seek them. Executive Director Tony Grieco thanked all the politicians who helped cut through the cumbersome red tape of acquiring an ex-military building, made thicker by the fact that middle units don’t often buy real estate, but rent instead.
Lighthouse Academy programs were previously scattered across other buildings, including St. Joseph’s Oblate Seminary and a renovated school in the Hanover area. The space includes 14 classrooms, four therapy rooms and a family room, among others.
“We finally got to the place where we could have our own home,” Grieco said.
State Senator John Yudichak, who plans not to run again when his current term expires, briefly recounted the origin of the state’s 29 Intermediate Units, authorized by Act 102 of 1970. IUs have increasingly had to adapt quickly to the needs of the schools they serve and the offerings the state provides through them, from emergency training to fill a growing shortage of teachers to aid in efforts to vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no better representation of the entrepreneurial and nimble educational spirit of Pennsylvania’s middle units than our very own Alfalfa IU 18 led by Dr. Tony Grieco,” said Yudichak, I-Swoyersville. “It is not brick and mortar that we celebrate today, it is the lighting of a warm and educational flame that will shine brightly as a new beacon of hope for parents and children. of our region who seek to build a better future in our community.”
While the Academy managed to open at the start of this school year despite the pandemic-induced delays, this was the first official opening, and the LIU managed to give it some extra warmth and smiles by holding an adapted bike presentation for students with special needs in the parking lot outside.
The LIU partnered with Variety Charity in 2019 to help get the special tricycles and strollers — at no cost — for kids who can’t easily sit up or use the conventional versions. Some had to be strapped to both the torso and the feet, some had to have the help of parents or helpers who could steer with a long rod running from the handlebars to near the rear wheels, but once they started to moving in a mini-parade around the lot, there were enough smiles to make it look like the sun had managed to break through a thick cloud of clouds.
And that was just parents and other adults. The smiles of the young people shone even brighter.
Contact Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish