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Hampton students use STEM to help classmate with missing arm

| Sunday, April 15, 2018, 10:09 a.m.
Hampton technology teacher Ryan Scott works with TJ Wilson to fit him for a device to allow him to play the trumpet easier.
Hampton technology teacher Ryan Scott works with TJ Wilson to fit him for a device to allow him to play the trumpet easier.
Mike Stegman takes some measurements to help prepare for the creation of a device to help fellow student, T.J. Wilson, play the trumpet.
Mike Stegman takes some measurements to help prepare for the creation of a device to help fellow student, T.J. Wilson, play the trumpet.
Chris Ference and Ritchie Donato take some trumpet measurements.
Chris Ference and Ritchie Donato take some trumpet measurements.

Students at Hampton High School are helping a fellow peer who is missing an arm by creating a wearable device at the school that will help him play trumpet better.

Chris Ference, a junior at the high school, along with other students presented to the school board at its April 9 meeting, on the advantages of STEM and STEAM-related projects at the school, including how they can use what they learn to solve real-life problems.

A shining example of that is helping Hampton student TJ Wilson play trumpet.

TJ, now 12, had half of his left arm amputated when he was in third grade. His mother Lori said that her son had a heart transplant as a baby and, prior to entering third grade, he had severe medical complications, creating a clotting disorder and a “fairly significant stroke.”

One of the unfortunate results was his arm had clotted and he had lost it from around the elbow, she said. They were living in the South Butler County School District at the time, and she said it wasn't too long before he was back doing almost everything that any other boy his age would do.

“I said, ‘this isn't going to define you. You can do anything you want. You will just do it a little different,' ” she said.

That now includes playing trumpet.

TJ just moved to the Hampton school district this year for sixth-grade.

Lurrene Parker, who is the middle school band director, noticed TJ's struggle to play the trumpet and she and elementary school band teacher Sean Desguin researched online and found the idea for a 3D model for an extension. They approached high school technology teacher Ryan Scott “who took the design to his classes and they redesigned the model to extend it to fit TJ's needs,” she said.

Prior to this he had to extend his shoulder to hold the instrument, and it was very tiring, Lori said.

Some of the methods and tools the Engineering Design 1 class utilized to make the device include AutodeskFusion 360 software, 3D printing, as well as rounds of sketching, said Ference. He worked with a number of other students on the fitting.

Modifications are being made to make it easier to remove from the trumpet after playing, he said.

“A challenge I experienced when designing for TJ was the functionality with only one arm. Simple tasks like removing it could pose a difficult maneuver for users with only one arm,” he said.

Lori was impressed with the district and the act of the students as they are using the project not only to help someone but also as a learning experience. Lori said it teaches the students “practical application” of using skills they obtained in the classroom.

“For a mother, that was very significant for a school district we just entered to embrace him as they did,” said Lori, of Allison Park. And there isn't a cost which is very significant. Lori said it's challenging to get approval from insurances to help pay for a prosthetic. And the district is providing this service at no-cost.

Ference said the work is just one of many made possible by STEAM and STEM programs, including architectural designs, creating engaging play panels for younger kids, and even STEM Starter Kits for preschool students that they plan to present in May.

“I think STEM and STEAM is making a change in a community. If (this) program wasn't there, there would be a lot of missed opportunities,” said Ference.

Lori said TJ has also been able to make a connection with Ference as they are both in Boy Scouts. TJ enjoys the outdoors and likes to swim, hike and fish.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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