Grahamtastic Connection Technology in the Classroom
A new “student” recently rolled onto the Hilltop and received a warm welcome in the Middle School. Its name is PandaBot, a robot consisting of a tablet mounted atop a pole on wheels – think a small Segway with a screen. Behind PandaBot is Berwick Academy seventh-grader and panda enthusiast Shea Feeley. Shea was diagnosed with a brain tumor last June and has not been able to attend school while she recovers from brain surgery, and radiation and undergoes ongoing chemotherapy. Thanks to Grahamtastic Connection, PandaBot allows Shea to attend classes in real-time, interact with her friends and teachers, and even wheel herself around campus. Founded by Leslie Morissette, Grahamtastic Connection is a Maine-based nonprofit that focuses on providing technology and connectivity to children facing illness so that they can remain engaged within their communities.
According to Shea’s dad, Ryan Feeley, who is Berwick’s Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs, “The physical challenges Shea has faced over the last seven months have obviously been huge, but emotionally, missing time in school has been equally tough for her. She is the type of kid who loves nothing more than being involved and engaged with her classmates at Berwick – when she was in third grade, she actually teared up when a snow day was announced because she didn't want to miss all the fun at school – so she's definitely felt that absence this fall and winter. PandaBot is going to give her the opportunity to be present and connected in such an exciting and innovative way. If she's in the hospital or at home not feeling well, she can use her iPad to Skype into class and hear everything. But it's also two-way technology, so she's not just able to listen, but her teachers and classmates can hear her, so she can participate in class as well. Perhaps the most fun is the fact that Shea can remotely navigate PandaBot around the Middle School. Shea say she loves being able to see her friends at recess and laugh with them as she spins PandaBot around in circles!”
Thankfully, Shea is making meaningful progress, and the Feeleys hope that in the near future, PandaBot won’t be needed. Last week’s MRI at Dana-Farber showed Shea’s tumor had shrunk since October, and that Shea’s spine is clear. Shea is facing three more cycles of chemotherapy, but maintains her trademark positivity and outlook.
“We have used PandaBot for hangout sessions with friends during recess, which has been extremely fun for her classmates. They love reconnecting with Shea,” says Molly McKay, Dean of the Middle School. “When she can't physically be here in person, PandaBot is an amazing option.”