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Youngsters’ artwork graces masks for UPMC Children’s Hospital workers
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During a time when people can use a chuckle or two, young Sana Motlakunta designed a protective mask that’s bound to do the trick.

“I painted a rainbow with a face, winking, with tongue out,” she said, her face beaming with the type of smile she hopes to generate.

Sana is an art student of Selva Priya, who decided to help make Valentine’s Day an extra-special occasion for employees of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“During this pandemic, we always think about the frontline workers. They’ve worked outside for us to be safe inside,” the South Fayette Township resident said. “So I really felt we should give something to honor them.”

Priya Arts students worked on painting masks that were preapproved by the hospital, coming up with their own ideas.

Aanya Jha created a tie-dye design using green, pink, red and blue, and for another face covering, she made a mandala, a geometric configuration of symbols, with a black marker.

“I like doing it,” she said about the project. “It’s good to give other people things.”

Ishaan Sankaran came up with three contributions, one of which features a panda and another showing a yellow emoji wearing a mask.

“To honor the frontline workers, on the mask I put the medical sign on it,” he said.

“I made one more mask that was a doctor showing his true identity. It was like an Iron Man suit inside.”

In recognition of Valentine’s Day, Avanthika Rejiesh painted an emoji with heart-shaped eyes on one mask and hearts in each corner of another, and perhaps with the end of winter in mind, a third face covering shows a flower.

And they follow a common scheme.

“I used the primary colors, which are red, yellow and blue,” Avanthika said.

Shaivy Shrivastava’s creations primarily are black and white, except for prominent use of red as a symbol of stamping out a virus.

“Since the frontline workers are giving us gifts by protecting us, I would like to give them a gift for them to be safe while protecting us,” she said. “My teacher, she inspired me to do this to help the frontline workers. And she’s like my idol.”

Sana also had praise for Priya.

“She teaches us different techniques, and I’m learning each one of them and using each one of them,” Sana said. “I like painting and giving those paintings to other people, because I like the smile on their face when I give them the painting.”

A two-time Three Rivers Arts Festival scholarship recipient, Priya said her students, in turn, serve as an inspiration with their enthusiasm as she continues to plan altruistic activities

“I look forward for any occasion or any celebration to give back to the community,” she said. “I believe it’s not only about teaching art. It’s more than that for me. They’re learning how to give to others, how to bring a smile from others by making something that is useful.”

As for the Children’s Hospital masks, she hopes to bring a bit of joy to the workers who wear them and the young patients they serve.

“We are used to wearing all the boring masks. So I think this is fun, to have something kind of colorful and unique,” she said. “Handmade is always unique.”

Priya also hopes her students’ latest project promotes a positive message.

“This is a good example that no matter how old you are or young you are, whoever you are or wherever you are, you can still spread kindness,” she said. “You can make the world a better place to live with whatever you are able to do.”

New member joins Peters Township School Board
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Peters Township School Board has a new member.

Joseph Deegan has been appointed to fill the remainder of the term of the Rev. Jamison Hardy, who announced his resignation in February. The term is up for election this year.

A resident of Peters Township for more than 20 years, Deegan is the deputy leader for a large business unit with the global professional services network Ernst & Young.

“I bring a lot of finance, HR and operational experience, which I think can really help us as we look forward to how we’re going to continue our excellence in Peters,” he said following Tuesday’s school board meeting, during which he was sworn in by Tom McMurray, board president.

“Also, I work with a lot of clients in terms of the workforce of the future,” Deegan added. “A lot of that will apply in terms of how we think about the ways we provide education to our children, as well as making sure that we continue to look at their safety and well-being as part of that.”

He has three children, two of whom graduated from Peters Township High School, where the youngest is a sophomore.

Deegan, who has been with Ernst & Young since 1994, graduated that year from Notre Dame University School of Law. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Albion College in Michigan.

To fill the vacancy created by Hardy’s resignation, the remaining board members interviewed 15 applicants.

“It was a very impressive group of people, and we enjoyed talking to them,” McMurray said, acknowledging “the effort and time that they put in to send the applications to us.”

Hardy, who left the board because he was relocating, served as chairman of the finance committee throughout the undertaking of the construction of the new Peters Township High School. McMurray now is serving in that capacity.

Gratitude Drive honors Upper St. Clair School District custodial staff
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The thought of a COVID-19 Christmas wasn’t exactly appealing to Laura Lisien.

“I was just in a funk. We were all shut down, and we weren’t able to see any family,” the Upper St. Clair mother of two said. “I’m home all the time now, so I happened to be watching the news on a Saturday morning, which never happens.”

What she happened to see while deviating from her normal routine managed to make her smile: a story about folks in Mars Area School District who packed stockings full of goodies to give to members of the custodial staff.

“That’s a great idea! That would cheer everyone up,” Lisien recalled thinking. “Let’s do a fundraiser for our custodians.”

She is a member of the Parent Teacher Organization at Upper St. Clair’s Eisenhower Elementary School, which both of her sons attend, and her first inclination was to show gratitude to the custodians in that building.

But she also serves as secretary on the board of the district’s Parent Teacher Council. And so she approached fellow officers Kerstin Goodworth, who serves as president, and Batool Nulwala, former president and board adviser, about benefiting the entire custodial staff.

Fast-forward to the end of January, and the Upper St. Clair Custodians Gratitude Drive had raised $12,637.50 through 679 donations, plus 650 notes expressing thanks, all distributed among the district’s 54 custodians.

“They are the ones who have been really working behind the scenes to make sure the rooms are clean and the kids are safe, and they need to be in the spotlight right now,” Nulwala said. “I have heard that there have been times when they are understaffed, and they’re taking a lot more on to make sure that everything is running smoothly.”

The gratitude drive started simply, with the creation of a web page for donations.

“We soft launched it the day before Christmas, without even telling anybody,” Lisien said. “And on the first day, we got $200.”

The organizers really started to get the word out when the students returned to school for the new year.

“It just took off like wildfire,” Lisien said. “I think everybody was kind of looking for something to be happy about. It was an outlet to show some gratitude and some positivity and some support.”

Nulwala, who has a son at Fort Couch Middle School and another who graduated from the high school in June, would like for the PTC to build on the initial drive’s success.

“This is something that we also think we want to continue,” she said.

“Now we want to think about who else can benefit from a drive in the spring.”