Helped by His Robot Pal, This Sick Child Telecommutes to School

Unable to physically attend class, six-year-old Anthony Longo remains a presence in school, thanks to his robotic avatar.

image via youtube screen capture

We’re not quite at the point yet where robots do all of our learning for us, but for kids in one New Jersey kindergarten class, the sight of a mechanized classmate whirring around the room is practically mundane. There, six-year-old Anthony Longo peers out from a small screen mounted on the elegant stalk of his robotic avatar. He can see the classroom, his classmates can see him, and he does it all remotely, controlling the machine from his home, using a simple iPad interface.

Anthony, reports, suffers from an acute case of leukemia, the chemotherapy for which has left him weak and unable to physically attend school. To compensate for his absence from school, Anthony was given a VGo telepresence robot, which has allowed him to be in the classroom even when he can’t “be” in the classroom. While Anthony still undergoes five hours a week of personal tutoring at home with his kindergarten teacher, his robotic telecommute has allowed him some small measure of normalcy as he fights to regain his strength. Explains Anthony’s principal, William Kochis, to “The big thing is it connects him with his peers, and it helps him continue to build relationships with his peers for next year.”

The VGo was given to Anthony by the Morristown Medical Center branch of The Valerie Fund, a non-profit dedicated to supporting children with cancer and blood disorders. Anthony is The Valerie Fund’s youngest VGo recipient, with the group continuing to raise money in order to supply more bots to more children in need. Douglas Gabel, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Information Management Foundation, which helped fund The Valerie Fund’s VGo purchases, told “ was very easy for us to continue to promote the goodness that the foundation does in raising funds when you see something like that [the VGo] actually happen and occur.”

Anthony is certainly not the only one using a VGo, or other robotic technology, to participate in activities which would otherwise be inaccessible due to illness, distance, or both. You might even recognize the very VGo model Anthony uses from a Verizon commercial which aired a few years back. Instead, Anthony’s case is an example of not just simply applying a technology, but also applying it well: His success using the robotic avatar is only possible because his teachers were able to quickly accommodate this new learning paradigm. Again, Principal Kochis in

“For a lot of teachers that would be scary. She [Anthony's teacher, Ms. Puskas] jumped in over spring break and learned the technology and embraced it. She's gone above and beyond. He wouldn't be where he is academically if it wasn't for his family and Ms. Puskas as well.”

To that end, perhaps it’s best to think of Anthony not necessarily as a trailblazer, but as a normalizer. His case is an example of how an exceptional technology can be applied to a person’s life, not as a disruption, but as a means to afford us all the same opportunities both in, and out, of the classroom.

[via medical daily]

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