“Come and sit next to us, Max!”
Children at the Bender JCC preschool program treat Max just like any other classmate. They read together, they play games together and they have playdates too. There's only one thing that's different:
Max doesn't attend class in person.
Max has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1, a life-threatening genetic disease affecting motor neurons which results in very low muscle tone and high susceptibility to respiratory illnesses.
That's why a robot—called a BEAM —attends class for him. Comprised of a screen and cameras mounted on a mobile stand, the BEAM allows Max to interact with other children and participate in activities too.
The use of the BEAM is coordinated between the lead teacher and Max’s parents, Kristen and Yahnatan. The teacher shares the plans for the day and Max’s parents use those plans to give Max a part of the classroom experience at home. For example, if the class is making cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, his mother will have cranberries at home, so Max is able to make the recipe too.
The BEAM is controlled through an APP which they run on a computer, iPad or even his mother's cellphone. When the children go over to the rug to hear a story, his mother can move the BEAM to the rug area with the other children. Allyson Levine, the classroom teacher, will bring the BEAM to music class, so Max can be part of the music class, or to school events in other parts of the JCC.
Ora Cohen Rosenfield, Director of the JCC's Early Childcare Program, explains that Max has become a valuable participant in the classroom:
“Our pre-school program is based on relationships—and Max has become an integrated part of our classroom community. Children don't see a robot. They see Max. Max has provided a special experience for the children and adults in the classroom community and the preschool.”
Max's parents were able to raise money through fundraising and grants to pay for the BEAM, but Ora Cohen Rosenfield explains that the entire community rallied around to make sure that Max feels welcomed and accepted at school:
“We run our programs by Jewish values, which are human values. We are commanded to take care of everyone in the community. It’s not charity, or a choice. We would be falling short of who we are as a community if we didn’t do this for Max.”
Read Max's story here.