There have been a lot of stories about the amazing uses of 3D printing for prosthetic limbs, and they’re all heartwarming, human interest tales. Some really tug on the heartstrings, though, and for me, this one really hit home. I come from a family of teachers — of four sisters, I’m the only non-teacher, and both my parents have worked in schools for decades. The communities that form in schools, and the bonds that form between students and faculty, and faculty-to-faculty bonds, can be so impressively strong.
A Pennsylvania elementary school has recently shown just how strong those bonds can be. Teacher Kathy DeBona of Western Salisbury Elementary School uses website Newsela to help her fifth grade students work on reading comprehension and writing skills. A story they read recently from Newsela was from The Baltimore Sun, detailing a 5-year-old boy who received a robotic hand.
In the story, Dr. Albert Chi of Johns Hopkins created a prosthetic hand for the young boy as part of his drive to create affordable prosthetics — for $50 or less, rather than traditionally created prosthetics that can range up to $40,000 for advanced models. The students in Ms. DeBona’s class were immediately inspired, and their teacher decided to connect the story to their writing lesson — and to a real-life lesson.
Fourth grade teacher Patti Anderson of Western Salisbury Elementary School, who had taught many of this year’s fifth graders last year, lost one of her hands her senior year of high school in an accident involving a professional laundry machine. She has since had the use of only one hand. Her former students and their teacher had the idea to write to Dr. Chi to see if he was willing to create a new prosthetic hand for Ms. Anderson, and so they all wrote letters to Johns Hopkins. (I’d grab a tissue before reading the letter collection.)
“Thank you for all the hard work for young children with Robotic hands. Can you please donate a Robotic hand to my old 4th grade teacher? I care about her and that is why I am writing this letter,” one student wrote.
While their teacher had cautioned her class not to expect a response, Dr. Chi and his team at Johns Hopkins found themselves moved to respond. The letters, it seemed, really hit home for the doctor’s team; the office read the letters aloud to one another. “Receiving those letters has to be one of the highlights of my entire career,” Dr. Chi said. He and his team found “such joy” in the students’ letters that they thought, “We have to make this happen, we have to build this hand for this teacher, we have to do this for these kids.”
And so they did, and the happy tears began over at Western Salisbury. “We were both blubbering,” Ms. Anderson said of the day when she and Ms. DeBona received confirmation that Dr. Chi and his team wanted to meet to discuss the endeavor. The happy crying continued on throughout the initial stages, with Ms. Anderson becoming emotional when Ms. DeBona told her class that Ms. Anderson would be “thinking about you guys and what you did” every time she wore her new hand.
The students had a field trip on November 20th to go with Ms. Anderson to Johns Hopkins where Dr. Chi presented her with the new hand. The experience included a hospital tour for the students, who saw first-hand the benefits of a life dedicated to helping others. And Ms. Anderson received her new, zebra-patterned hand. She had requested the design, and Dr. Chi’s wife painted it, bringing even more of a family feeling to the entire project.
Before the trip, Dr. Chi said, “We’re rolling out the red carpet for the kids. We just really want to recognize them for going above and beyond to do something special for their teacher. It’s so moving.”
What do you think of these students’ initiative? Tell us what you think about this school community working together in the Fifth Graders Reach Out to Johns Hopkins to Get Their Teacher a New Hand forum thread over at 3DPB.com.
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