Win-Win Collaboration Between East and Ruby Van Meter

Thursday, May 18th, 2017
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East sophomore Skyler Leonard poses with a prototype of a milk carton holder he created in Tim Jobes’ Computer Aided Design class.

There once was a piece of legislation known as No Child Left Behind. Maybe you heard of it. Before it became synonymous with federal lip service to education, it was the longstanding way of doing business at Des Moines Public Schools where schools like Smouse and Ruby Van Meter have long gone to extraordinary lengths to reach and teach students facing extraordinary challenges.

Here’s an example of that commitment.

Jess Borysiewicz is an occupational therapist on the staff at RVM. He got to brainstorming about a device that might enable a student there, Gloria Gallegos, to enjoy the chocolate milk she loves without anyone having to help her.

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Ruby Van Meter student Gloria Gallegos tests her new custom-built milk carton holder as occupational therapist Jess Borysiewicz looks on.

He designed a customized carton-holder and shared it with his colleague Melissa Lawson, the district’s Assistive Technology Team Leader. She had spearheaded RVM’s acquisition of a 3D printer last year for reasons she could barely imagine at the time.

Lawson then consulted Tim Jobes who teaches in the engineering lab at East High School. One of his students there is 10th grader Skyler Leonard. Skyler was looking for some extra credit to further boost his already high grade in Computer Aided Design. Jobes passed Borysiewicz’s draft to Skyler who adapted it and shot the specs back to RVM. Borysiewicz fed them to the 3D printer and, voila, there a small group sat around a table first thing Thursday morning while Gloria happily helped herself to a nice, cold carton of chocolate milk.

That’s the story in a nutshell of a project that could lead to more.

“This kind of collaboration is a real breakthrough,” said Lawson. “It opens a lot of possibilities for additional ways that we can serve our special needs students.”

Jobes, too, is intrigued by the potential.

“I confess I was sort of leery when Melissa first contacted me,” he said. “But the way this worked out – I’m excited to keep exploring.”

Teaching aids and devices that formerly had to be shopped for might now be available in-house. Borysiewicz teamed up with RVM speech pathologist Sarah Gallagher to design a hands-free mount for a tablet called a speech-generating device that only cost a few dollars to create with the school’s 3D printer. It enables students who cannot communicate verbally and have limited dexterity to express themselves in ways they couldn’t before. Forty-two of the 133 students at the school use SGDs.

“This type of mount is expensive out of a catalogue,” said Lawson. “It’s another example of something we can do for ourselves with the 3D printer which, incidentally, was a great idea by our principal, Cynthia Wiesz.”

Thursday morning the printer was whirring away, producing a series of symbols used to teach the school’s deaf and blind students.

We expect this story might just be the first arising from the exciting merger of form and function that East and Ruby Van Meter pulled off in this test case. It’s like the district has a new department: Research and Development. What’s next – patents?

“The costs mean we can afford to experiment,” said Borysiewicz. “Every idea might not work out as well as this one did. But then we’ll try something else.”

Students like Gloria are the direct but hardly the only beneficiaries of this emerging intra-district partnership.

East’s engineering lab is a branch of Project Lead the Way. PLTW is a nonprofit organization “that provides a transformative learning experience for K-12 students and teachers across the U.S.”

The opportunity to do some practical problem-solving in addition to theoretical, abstract classroom assignments is “pretty cool,” to put it the way Skyler did when he learned that his cup-holder design was now in the hands of Gloria across town at Ruby Van Meter.

As for the extra credit Skyler sought when Jobes got him involved with Borysiewicz and Lawson? One look at the pictures of Gloria enjoying her chocolate milk should offer more of that than he bargained for.

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