PNW BOCES Partners with Scarsdale High School to Improve Children’s Lives at Sunshine Home

October 31, 2018

Through a partnership with PNW BOCES, a group of Scarsdale High School students recently visited the Sunshine Children’s Home & Rehab Center in Ossining looking for ways they could use creativity and technology to improve the lives of children who live there.
In one classroom, where Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES provides special education services to the home’s school-aged residents, a teacher pointed to a boy who stayed calmer when his hands were busy – but was always pushing his toys off his tray. In another, an aide detailed the daily challenge of transporting children in wheelchairs while simultaneously moving critical breathing equipment. And in a bedroom containing cribs and medical supplies, a therapist described a toddler who had outgrown the indoor baby swing he loved – but faced medical issues that kept him off the home’s outdoor swings.
Soon, students were talking to PNW BOCES teachers and staff about ideas they had for adapting toys and building new ones – or creating equipment that could ease a few of the daily challenges faced in the classrooms and bedrooms of the Sunshine Children’s Home, which specializes in the care and treatment of medically complex children requiring long-term residential care.
“We’re seeing where the problems are – and now we want to take those problems and attack them,” said senior Connor McCarthy. That work will take place during in the Scarsdale High School “Advanced Topics in Entrepreneurship” class taught by teachers and Lisa Yokana and Brian McDonald.
“The students will be creating things to make the lives of our students more accessible and more fun,” said PNW BOCES Education Technology Coordinator Dr. Jennifer Harriton-Wilson. “There’s an intrinsic difference when young people view entrepreneurship as a way to use their intelligence and creativity to enrich others’ lives.”
Yokana said the students had been learning about social entrepreneurship and the importance of tackling design problems faced by underserved populations. “It’s not enough for our students to just ‘make something.’ We want them to make something that makes a difference,” she said.
The partnership began after Harriton-Wilson arranged a tour for educators in the PNW BOCES region of Scarsdale School District’s Center for Innovation. After noticing a toy that a student had adapted with a switch, which would make it easier for children with some types of disabilities to use, she and Yokana began exploring the idea of using Sunshine’s classrooms as a lab for Entrepreneurship students seeking “problems in search of solutions.” Educators from both PNW BOCES and Scarsdale embraced the idea. To prepare students for their visit, PNW BOCES staff first visited Scarsdale to talk about the severe challenges that Sunshine’s residents face and the equipment that helps many of them breathe and eat.  
That teaching continued during the recent visit, with staff leading the students in an exercise where they fed each other applesauce to experience what it feels like to be unable to perform basic functions. As the visit progressed, students thought of design ideas that ranged from spoons that beep to make feeding more interactive to wheelchairs that could also function as a rocking chair.
High school senior Ali Rothberg said she was realizing the important connection between play and sensory development and questioned whether toys could be adapted with specific children in mind. Classmate Jackie Newman said she kept noticing all the electrical cords needed to keep medical equipment running and found herself wondering whether there was a design solution that would make it easier to transport children on medical support in wheelchairs.
“In any situation, you can see opportunities for design,” said McDonald, adding that he wanted to students to learn by navigating the entire design process. For the remaining school year, the students will work in teams to define specific problems and create solutions. At Scarsdale High School, they will be able to use a fabrication lab that includes 3D printers, laser cutters and a plastic-molding machine, and a woodworking shop.
Students will communicate with PNW BOCES staff who teach at Sunshine as they develop prototypes for testing and feedback through video chats and emails. Harriton-Wilson said students will deliver projects to Sunshine as they are created with the expectation that designs will go through several versions. 
PNW BOCES teacher Shannon Gaynor said she expect the partnership will be beneficial and meaningful for both Scarsdale and Sunshine Children’s Home students: “I’m not sure we’ve even fully grasped how impactful this program could become. The Scarsdale students came in with this incredible sense of energy and compassion. I think that their ingenuity and fresh eyes combined with our experience and guidance will make for some inspiring inventions that will improve the lives and well-being of our students.” The SHS teachers said that designs that could prove useful elsewhere will likely be crowd-sourced with others who design for people with disabilities. 
“I think it’s a wonderful collaboration, and I can’t wait to see what’s created from it,” said Dr. Shelley Einbinder-Fleischmann, PNW BOCES director of Special Education.
Linda Mosiello, Sunshine Children’s Home administrator, agreed: “We are all so excited about this collaboration and can’t wait to see and try out what these students come up with for our children.”