Students Helping Students: A Need Fulfilled
It has been said, as usually ascribed to Plato, that “necessity is the mother of invention”.
In the case of the iPad holders created by Orange High School teacher Aaron Mayer’s wood design classes, this invention has become more than a necessity for at least one Orange parent…it has become a godsend.
“These students have opened up a whole new aspect of Kit’s life that previously was not available to her,” effused Peggy Cooley, whose daughter Kit has cortical blindness and whose special needs prevent her from holding or carrying certain objects. “This project has allowed Kit to show her family what she is doing at school and to fulfill her true need and joy of having some degree of control in her life.”
Kit, who spends most of her day in a wheelchair, is able to use a school iPad to write her name, process information and increase her vocabulary. But she was not able to hold the iPad or use it efficiently from her wheelchair.
“Before the iPad holders, we would need an adult to monitor the safety of the device and the student,” said District Occupational Therapist Kathy Castrataro. “A variety of different cases and book holders were tried and the iPad would still get knocked down.”
Castrataro attended a workshop where she saw that a special education teacher there had a personal holder made of wood. She immediately brought the idea back to Orange.
“She understood the need in my classroom that students could ‘swipe’ iPads off the table potentially causing damage and brought the concept to Aaron Mayer to see if he could reproduce something similar for our students at OHS,” said teacher Carla Nazelli.
Mayer jumped on the idea, keeping in mind the Orange motto, “To Learn. To Lead. To Make a Difference.”
“There are students who need this and we can do it; it’s that simple,” said Mayer. “We never looked at anything on the market; we came up with our own design using the materials and machines we have in the shop.”
Mayer’s students used the wood from felled trees collected from the Orange Schools Campus and skills they learned in his Wood Shop class. For many of the students, it was one of their first experiences in the industrial arts.
“We got a bunch of thin strips of wood and glued them together which made the back of it. Then we took more thin strips and glued them on to the side and pinned them using a nail gun and that’s what made the sides,” explained ninth grader Andrew Levy. “I thought it was a good idea because it was helping children who have learning disabilities and that’s a cause I feel really strongly about.”
“I thought both our students with special needs and their typical peers would benefit from this joint venture. It is a Win-Win situation,” added Castrataro. “Our students are having increased access and independence to the iPAD and the typical peers are learning about the students’ disabilities and the modifications that need to be made to meet their needs.”
Castrataro was right. After a few different designs and attempts, the students created both a table-mount and a wheelchair mount that not only worked, but that Kit and her fellow students who created the products clearly relished.
“When students see teachers and therapists working together in a collaborative fashion, especially in this case where it was cross-departmental, they are able to benefit from a “working model” in action, teaching by doing. This is a 21st Century concept,” said Nazelli. “The product directly benefits the students by promoting safety and an effective use of technology and promotes independence for students which is of significant importance in the life of an individual with unique and different abilities.”
“I loved this!” noted ninth grader Talia Zaverdinos. “It’s hands-on; it’s active. And the best part is knowing that we were using this class to do something for the school and others. It helped us make a difference because it showed us that we can literally make stuff that could change other people’s lives.”
That it clearly did.
“It taught the students that it wasn’t just about what we made. We worked with the teachers in the classroom and modified it many times to meet their needs,” said Mayer. “It was a great example of designing to meet a certain need.”
“You have given Kit the ability to make her own choices and the positive reinforcement she needs for her self-esteem. I was deeply touched that Mr. Mayer and his students were so eager to find ways to allow the amazing technology available to all students to be effectively utilized by students with special needs,” said Peggy Cooley. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating such a wonderful device.”
And as Kit effortlessly watched herself on the iPad she has so come to love, the smile that enveloped her face was worth a thousand words.