When teachers in the Life Skills class at Whitemarsh Elementary School needed some help to make a tool more accessible for one of their students, they turned to Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS). The team needed a keyguard for a communication device to help Jamir isolate and select words on an iPad. 

Boy selecting pictures on an iPad


Click here to watch a video!

"It was designed by students in the Engineering class at Plymouth Whitemarsh using a 3D printer," said MaryTherese Sabatino, Speech-Language Pathologist at Whitemarsh Elementary School. "I had talked to the teacher, Jim Muscarella, who works with them and said we had a need in the classroom for something custom designed for a student. He said they could take it on as a project."

Three (PWHS) seniors — Julia Evan, Isabella Schaffer and Kate Pezzano — took measurements, did research, and created a couple of prototypes before completing the final version: a bright red, three dimensional grid that fits tightly in the iPad case. 

"We worked really well together," said Julia Evan. "We really enjoyed what the project is about, and we wanted to do the best for Jamir."

The trio used the Engineering Design Process, as well as an industry-standard 3D mechanical design computer program called Inventor, to create the keyguard. 

"Mr. Muscarella really helps us learn the design process," said Kate Pezzano. "I had no idea what that was, the first time I had heard it. Now I can apply it to real-life situations. It's cool to make something to help people."

With the keyguard in place, Jamir can easily isolate and select words to ask for things — like what he'd like to eat and drink or what music he'd like to hear.

Two teachers and three high school students talking


"He likes rap music, so we have to find that appropriate rap music to get him going when he wants to get motivated," said WES Teacher Stephanie Brennan Malarski. "Before that, maybe we didn't pick that kind of music for him, so it's really giving him a chance to be who he really is instead of us deciding who he is."

The teachers have seen a decrease in negative behaviors, because Jamir can now communicate his needs.

"It's giving him more autonomy, and I think that the fact that he's able to say no now is huge," added Ms. Sabatino. "A lot of times when we start an activity, he'll just go 'goodbye' or 'see you later alligator' which is his way of saying 'I don't want to do this right now.'"

The three PWHS seniors plan to major in engineering in college and attribute their interest in to the extra curricular activities that start in Colonial Middle School and courses along the engineering career pathway at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.  

"I used to do TSA, so that was Technology Student Association, and that was really where I gained the love for it," said Isabella Schaffer. "And then the classes that PW offers make it so clear what you want to do."

The device now travels with Jamir to and from school to help him communicate.

Click here to watch a video!