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Students helping students

Students from Edgeley Public School present the spoon holders they designed and made for people requiring special needs at the Anne Carlsen Center Wednesday. John M. Steiner / The Sun1 / 2
Anna Brumfield, 12, left, and other students from Edgeley Public School present plastic tactile pieces in various sizes, shapes and colors that they designed and made for people requiring special needs on Wednesday at the Anne Carlsen Center. John M. Steiner / The Sun2 / 2

An adult conversation overheard by a curious fifth grader sparked a unique partnership between Edgeley elementary students and Anne Carlsen Center therapists to provide adaptive equipment to children with disabilities.

While ACC has a 3D printer and Tinkercad, or computer-aided design technology, it does not currently have anyone employed to design and create adaptive equipment using this technology, said Kris Nitschke, therapy operations manager at ACC.

"We currently have the capability, we just don't have someone hired in that position so we don't have anybody doing this," Nitschke said. "My son overheard this at home and he said, 'Well, we could do that for you.'"

Nitschke's son is a fifth grader at Edgeley Public School, which has its own 3D printer and Tinkercad technology.

In March, ACC gave a group of fifth and sixth grade students at Edgeley Public School some adaptive technology design projects based on the specific needs of ACC students. On Wednesday, the Edgeley students presented their final products to ACC staff.

The final products included spoon holders, iPad stands, fidget toys, a paper pusher for a paper shredding machine and textured puzzle pieces for visually impaired students.

One group of Edgeley students created wheelchair joysticks of varying shapes and sizes for ACC students who cannot grab a regular sized wheelchair joystick. The group also created handbrake extenders for students who cannot reach the handbrakes on their wheelchair.

Edgeley students also made game pieces to salvage board games that had lost too many pieces.

"I'm so excited about the Candy Land game pieces," Ann Albrecht, a speech pathologist for ACC, told the Edgeley students. "The Candy Land game they don't make anymore, and we've had it for three or four years and we just slowly keep losing the pieces.

"It is a super important tool for us to have for teaching, and we were getting to where we weren't going to be able to use it anymore because we didn't have the pieces, so thank you very much."

Making the tiny game pieces was a learning experience that required some trial and error, said Lacey Brandenburg, fifth grade teacher at Edgeley Public School.

"We had a 'nailed it' and a 'failed it' bucket, so if it didn't work we put it in there," she said, adding that a special precision tool called a "digital caliper" was ultimately required to measure exact dimensions down to the millimeter. "We all got a lesson from the ag teacher on how to use a caliper."

Natalee Syversen, a 12-year-old Edgeley student, presented adaptive holders for crayons and colored pencils before explaining her personal connection to the project.

"I thought it was really important because my cousin was born premature and goes to therapy here (at ACC)," Natalee said. "These were made for her."

Natalee said she is even considering a career involving adaptive technology because she likes "helping people."

On Wednesday, ACC staff also introduced Edgeley students to possible careers in physical, speech and occupational therapy. The Edgeley students were allowed to explore ACC's therapeutic sensory bins, tactile mats and - a crowd favorite - "the hug machine."

Throughout the project, Edgeley students became increasingly more aware of the difficulties faced by children with disabilities, Brandenburg said.

"They'd come up with a design and I'd say, 'Well, what if they can't do this?' so they had to really think about the disabilities," she said.

This motivated the Edgeley students to make life easier for children with disabilities.

"I thought it was important," said Anna Brumfield, a 12-year-old Edgeley student. "I liked helping all the little kids and older kids that can't do stuff like we do."