PITTSBURGH — Students in special education in the Deer Lakes School District are getting a chance to learn life skills and become part of the Boy Scouts of America through a new program.

This is the first year the district has participated in the Trailblazers Outreach Program, which is offered at no cost to the district by the Boy Scouts. One classroom from each of the district’s four schools is participating. Students will complete the program to become either a Cub Scout or a Boy Scout depending on their age and learning level.

Students get a chance to learn traditional scouting skills like archery, how to work in a group and how to be a good citizen, but also life skills like managing money and how to apply for a job.

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“It’s nice because the information that the students are getting is also helpful in them learning how to take care of themselves and be responsible,” said Lindsay McGaughey, director of special education for the district.

Students meet twice a month with Bob Zelleznick, who is the Trailblazer executive with the Laurel Highlands Council of the Boy Scouts. Students are presented a modified version of the typical Boy Scout and Cub Scout lessons.

“I see how excited and how happy the kids are to actually participate in our program,” Zelleznick said.

The Laurel Highlands Council is one of only a few in the country to offer this kind of program. Zelleznick said about 1,200 students in the region now participate.

In addition to their lessons, the students also get to take part in Camp Guyasuta events each fall and spring where they practice archery, have hay rides and participate in field games. They also get to participate in the Pinewood Derby in the spring. Wooden cars used in the derby are made for the students by local technical schools.

“They love that,” Zellenick said.

Once students complete the program they are encouraged to join a local Cub Scout or Boy Scout pack. Zelleznick said local leaders are trained on how to successfully integrate a scout with special needs.

“We encourage that,” he said.

Officials hope to continue to grow the program next year and get more students. McGaughey said some of the older students have been able to help mentor the younger students as well.

“It’s been helpful for them because some of our students struggle when they are with large groups of students without support,” she said. “A lot of them would be overwhelmed by participating in this type of activity after school on their own.”

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