Utah teens help send robot to Primary Children’s Medical Center
Education • VGo allows patients to attend school remotely.
Published: January 27, 2012 07:54AM
Updated: April 5, 2012 11:39PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Kearns High School students, from left: Thao Nguyen, Zach Lester and Eric Mijanos, talk on Thursday about the robot they raised funds for. The Kearns High OK Club raised $3,500 toward the donation of a VGo robot to Primary Children’s Medical Center. The robot is able to attend class for a patient, relaying video of class in real-time and asking questions for the patient.

Kearns • The cyber corps at Kearns High, a group of students known as iCougars, have helped the school better use technology since a federal grant placed an iPod Touch in the hands of every student. Now, the tech-savvy teens have honed their fund-raising skills to put technology to use for patients at Primary Children’s Medical Center.

On Thursday, the iCougars and Salt Lake City-based nonprofit Operation Kids donated a VGo robot to the children’s hospital. The Kearns High students raised $3,500 — half of the robot’s price tag — through selling iCougar and “love bytes” T-shirts and wristbands, along with securing a matching donation from a private foundation. Operation Kids pitched in the other $3,500.

Before VGo was sent off to Primary Children’s, theKearns High students test drove the robot at school, struggling at times to send commands through the school’s overloaded wireless Internet. (After all, Kearns High has 1,700 students with digital devices.) Once connected online, the robot can attend classes remotely for a child in the hospital.

The robot relays real-time video of class to the child’s laptop, allowing the student to ask questions and make comments during class.

“We found a technology-based service project. It’s awesome,” said 17-year-old Eric Mijangos, an iCougar. “It was so much fun to play around with. I could see how it would be a real benefit for someone who is bed-bound.”

The project is the first of a new Operation Kids program called Club OK. Operation Kids president Stephen Wunderli hopes to see branches of Club OK at high schools throughout Utah and the nation. There are 20 to 30 more schools planning to join Club OK in the next few months, he said.

“We believe that kids, in many ways, are self-educating. If we provide challenges and resources, they will find a way to help their community,” Wunderli said. “That’s where they learn leadership. That’s where they learn how to get along. And it’s where they learn confidence.”

Wunderli expects more VGo robots to be donated to children’s hospitals through Club OK. At Primary Children’s, he said, there may be 20 or 30 kids at any time who would like to go to school remotely. The engagement in school, he noted, can help in their well-being and recovery.

Ashley Gutierrez, student body president of Kearns High, said she was impressed by a demonstration of VGo she saw Thursday morning.

“It kind of blew me away because I didn’t think this was possible,” she said. “This is going to make a big difference if more high schools get involved.”

Want to start a Club OK?

I To learn more about Club OK, contact Stephen Wunderli at swunderli@operationkids.org.