Technology could aid chronically ill students


VGo robot is used to help chronically ill students attend school. Photo courtesy of Verizon Innovation Program.

By J1 reporter Kate Kellen

By the 21st century, many expected flying cars, robots working instead of people and the option to live on Mars. Although these are not yet possible, technology has brought us a long way and provides many benefits.

One great benefit of technology is the role it can play in the lives of chronically ill students. Many students suffer from illnesses that keep them from school for long periods of time. With these students missing so much school, homework piles up and stress increases.

St. Vincent De Paul (SVDP) grade school has been able to successfully use technology to improve the life of one seventh grade boy. This boy was undergoing chemotherapy and his immune system was too compromised for school.

In order to keep up in classes, the school was able to equip the boy with a Cisco monitor. This monitor enable him to “attend” classes. The student could see the classroom, teacher and other students, and they could all see him.

One of his teachers said that “The positive things it has done for him are hard to measure.  He felt connected and not isolated like students who are absent on a frequent basis.”

Technology has been extremely helpful and has not been difficult for the school to use. The student has been more connected in the classroom, which has benefitted his education.

Right now, Marian has students that could benefit from a more advanced incorporation of technology. Currently, Marian uses emails and apps to keep students updated, but is this enough?

Science teacher Mrs. Sharon Genoways has has taken advantage of what is available, and made a very successful system. Genoways records her lessons at home and posts them online so students who miss classes will have them at their fingertips.

Even though Genoways is able to use technology successfully, there are still some restrictions. The students are not able to fully participate, ask questions in the moment or be involved in group activities.

Just like the young boy at SVDP, the use of robots and technology could be possible at Marian with only a little more effort. The training for this technology is easy, and takes just about a week to get the hang of. However, with such advanced technology a few challenges arise.

The cost of this technology is steep, but there are programs to help. Grahamtastic Connection provides free technology to seriously ill children for educational purposes. These programs are extremely beneficial, because these robots and other forms of technology can cost anywhere from $2,000 to 7,000.

One of the most effective robots used by children to attend school is the VGo. The VGo is a robotic telepresence that allows students to hear, talk, and participate in the classroom. This robot enables students to take part in one of the most important parts in school: the social aspect.

Although the robots would be very useful, there are methods that could be incorporating right now with the technology available at Marian. Recording lessons is very useful, but not as interactive. Ill students at Marian could FaceTime classrooms using their iPads. This would allow them to ask questions and participate in the class discussions.

Marian currently does not have a set policy to help these students; rather they decide what to do based on each student. Marian counselor Ms. Laura Gelecki has worked with students at Marian who have missed a lot of school.

“I meet with the student; we look at what needs to be accomplished, tests, notes, assignments, etc. and work up a schedule that the student then shows to the teachers,” Gelecki said.

Each student is responsible for talking to their teachers about what must be done and how to handle their assignments.

“If a student is going to be absent an extended time, teachers usually email the girl with assignments, notes etc., as needed. Some [teachers] have the students copy their notes, others ask the girl to get notes from a friend,” Gelecki said.

Junior Kyleigh Gall was diagnosed with a rare form of Sarcoma cancer. She misses school frequently and needed Marian’s help to stay caught up.

Her counselor met with her to make a school plan. Gall was responsible for talking to each teacher, and she had them email her weekly with updates.

“I think Marian has been very helpful, but FaceTime and recorded lessons for students would be nice features… because it is hard to teach yourself the lessons when it comes to certain classes,” Gall said.

Marian is fortunate enough to have plenty of technology at its disposal, and this technology could be used to improve the lives of the ill students at Marian if effectively incorporated.

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