A newsmaker you should know: Making a classroom of life

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As a professor of education at Point Park University since 1990, Christal Chaney has taken two sabbaticals that she said greatly influenced her career.

The first came in 1998 when she co-founded the Three Hierarchs Eastern Orthodox School with Father John Chakos at the Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Mt. Lebanon. After nine years, the school moved into its current location, the old Heidelberg Elementary School building, to accommodate growth.

"We started with preschool and grew a class every year,'' said Mrs. Chaney, 49, of Mt. Lebanon, who has a doctorate in education and is director and principal of THEOS.

The school now has seven teachers and 50 students in preschool through the fourth grade.

During Mrs. Chaney's second sabbatical in 2006, she visited the Hogar Ayau Raphael Orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala, from which Father John and his wife adopted a child.

She said she made the visit because of her background in education and her desire for a multicultural educational experience in the orphanage, run by three Orthodox nuns. She returns each December with a team that includes Father John, teachers from THEOS and women from Holy Cross Church.

The team helps out cleaning the building, maintaining the grounds and working with the children doing art projects. Mrs. Chaney observes work in the classrooms and consults with the teachers.

"My first visit was overwhelming in that the orphanage is in a poor section and I saw things there I never saw in the United States," she said. "From an academic standpoint, it was interesting to see the developmental challenges of orphaned children and to look at 'attachment theory' to see how it affects them.''

To help infants bond to their caregivers, she's taken along 15 infant slings donated by the Shoulder Baby Holder Co. and families from the THEOS School.

In December, Mrs. Chaney addressed the needs of teenage girls living at the orphanage. THEOS students raised money through a "Change for Change" campaign in which they collected $1,400 in loose change.

The Point Park Chapter of Future Teachers of America donated $800.

THEOS students took the money to local discount stores and purchased more than 150 pounds of clothing and shoes.

With additional donations, Mrs. Chaney also hosted a field trip for the teenagers that included dinner at a restaurant and a visit to a book store. For many, this was the first time in a "fancy" restaurant, she said.

"Point Park University has been very supportive of my work and sees it as an extension of my classroom because it enhances what I'm able to bring to my students," she said. "It's one thing to study developmental theory in a book, but it's something quite different to test theory.''

The Hogar Ayau Raphael Orphanage is funded by a mix of benefactors in Guatemala, the United States and several countries.

In February, Mrs. Chaney will fly to Guatemala City to participate in the ribbon cutting for a new orphanage building outside the city on Lake Amatitlan.

"The move will get [the children] into the wholesomeness of the countryside and away from the poor section of the city where prostitution, drugs and nightly gunfire are common," she said.


Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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