After Partnering with PNW BOCES, Scarsdale HS Students Pitch Ideas to Help Children

April 25, 2019

One group of Scarsdale High School students thought about what it would be like to have to be dressed by another person. Another pondered what life would be like if they hadn’t been able to play typical childhood games with their siblings. Others wondered how it would feel to have the equipment that helps keep them alive also make them uncomfortable.
And then they got to work designing, revising, testing and revising again. This week, those students and their classmates “pitched” seven products for improving the lives of people with disabilities to their families and friends.  The products included the “Quick Zip,” a shirt designed to bring style and greater dignity to children with disabilities who need to be dressed by a caregiver; a consulting service that will modify a game to make it more inclusive; and a “Rocket Rail” system that allows medical equipment to be attached to a wheelchair to give children more freedom and caregivers easier access for monitoring.
The students’ proposals grew out of a partnership with Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES that started last fall when their class visited the Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehab Center in Ossining with the hope of devising innovative products that would fill a need for residents or staff. PNW BOCES teachers provide special education services to the home’s school-aged residents, many of whom have complex medical conditions and require machines to help them breathe and eat.
“I’m proud of the way that the students embraced this challenge,” said PNW BOCES Education Technology Coordinator Jennifer Harriton-Wilson after hearing the pitches. “I believe our society has moved from tolerance to acceptance of people with disabilities. This project has helped those involved go one step further to appreciation.”
Students in Scarsdale’s “Advanced Topics in Entrepreneurship” class, taught by teachers Lisa Yokana and Brian McDonald, designed their products after the visit to Sunshine, when they teachers and staff described the challenges faced by the home’s residents. Then the students began a months-long process of working on new products or adaptations to existing ones.
One group of students tried dressing each other when they were lying down to experience a little of what it must be like for young people with limited or no mobility. They also thought about the bibs and towels that some of the residents must wear over their shirts as further protections from body fluids. And they thought about how much they love clothes – and how the right outfit can boost a mood.
The product they designed can be slid under a person and snapped together, and has a built-in shirt protector and bandana component.
“We wanted to be sure that the process of getting dressed had dignity, that was so important to us,” said Alison Rothberg. Added classmate Amanda Ruzumna, “Our idea was to eliminate the hassle but uphold the dignity.”  Brooke Bensche said they also wanted their product to have style, so they envisioned protectors that coordinate with the shirt.
“We wanted it to be fashionable, and to be something we would want to wear ourselves,” she said. With the help of a $5,000 grant the students won in an international competition sponsored by No Barriers USA, the students are now working toward manufacturing a small batch of their shirts.
Teacher Lisa Yokana said she felt like a proud parent listening to her students make their pitches. She said all of the students overcame obstacles on the design path, with many having to make major revisions after getting feedback from the PNW BOCES teachers and Sunshine staff, who tested out prototypes.
“We’ve seen their crashes and their triumphs,” she said. “We’ve been their worst critics throughout this process. Tonight, we are their biggest supporters.” 
The partnership began after Harriton-Wilson arranged a tour for educators in the PNW BOCES region of Scarsdale’s Center for Innovation and saw a toy that a student had modified for children with disabilities. She and Yokana hatched the idea of using Sunshine’s classrooms as a lab for Entrepreneurship students seeking “problems in search of solutions.” PNW BOCES and Scarsdale educators, as well as Sunshine staff, embraced the idea.
The Scarsdale teachers wanted their students to experience what it is like to navigate the entire design and manufacturing process. Along the way, they hoped students would learn the importance of tackling design problems faced by underserved populations and benefit from creating something that makes a difference in a child’s life. At the high school, the students made use of the high school’s fabrication lab, which includes 3D printers, laser cutters, and a plastic-molding machine, and its woodworking shop.
“They’ve all grown so much during the process,” Yokana said.
Cutlines: Students describe products to make life easier for people with disabilities during a “pitch night” at Scarsdale High School.