A stellar invention for STELLA!

Posted on October 24th, 2018

Petoskey High School Career Tech students develop 3-D printed device to assist elementary student

‘As educators, we must faithfully rely on each other and believe that a world without barriers for our students begins with the work we do every day.’  – Jodi Carroll, Stella’s Occupational Therapist, Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District

PETOSKEY –Sheridan Elementary first-grader Stella Malpass has found multiple ways to thrive at school despite a joint condition that limits her ability to extend and flex her limbs fully. By all accounts, she is bright, curious and steals the hearts of everyone she encounters. She is likewise able to keep up with academic demands without hesitation or limitation.

One part of her day, however, has remained a frustration for Stella, 6, and that is her inability to use the restroom without an aide. Managing her clothing independently without the full use of her arms is limiting, thus requiring support from a paraprofessional for each restroom break.

Jodi Carroll, Stella’s Occupational Therapist, began to research how Stella could become more independent when using the restroom. She was unable to find a device that was simple, portable, and effective in assisting Stella in managing her clothing. “I had been in communication with local fabricators to find a solution for Stella and in thinking more, I thought about looking within our own local school district,” Carroll said.

Enter: Petoskey High School students in Lauren Liebler’s Career and Technical Education Drafting and Design class, which utilizes CAD (Computer Aided Design) and 3-D printing technology.

“Our team of minds met after school, and we collectively agreed on the importance of our older students assisting our younger students. We are all a part of the greater community of Petoskey Schools,” Carroll said. “As educators, we must faithfully rely on each other and believe that a world without barriers for our students begins with the work we do every day.”

Liebler said her class of 18 engineering students was eager to work on the challenge. Within a week, they had designed a prototype and printed it using a 3-D printer. The device is a small plastic bar that snaps onto Stella’s pants, allowing her to manage her clothing without them rolling or folding out of her reach. The project will be ongoing; students continue to work on modifications of the device and will do so as Stella grows.

One of the devices created by the Petoskey High School students and printed on a 3-D printer.

“It has been an incredible experience working in collaboration with Lauren Liebler and her students on this project,” said Carroll. “They did not waver in taking on the challenge of inventing something sleek, unobtrusive, and practical. I believe this speaks volumes about their tenacity, work ethic, and spirit to help others.”

Indeed, the opportunity to use a real-life engineering challenge to help another student was meaningful to both the teacher and her students. “It has been such a great opportunity to help another child within our community,” Liebler noted. “I think it is safe to say that Stella stole the hearts of every student in my class.”

One of the first prototypes of the clothing adapters as they will attach to a pair of pants.

Student Jayson LaGrou said the experience has been out of the ordinary compared to typical school projects.

“It was unique that we applied this project to a real life situation,” said Jayson, a junior. “Normally, when we talk about problem-solving, it’s not likely expanded upon in real life experiences.”

Student Trent Allen agreed. “I liked that it wasn’t out of a textbook. It was real life. I think that’s what school needs more of; real life experiences,” said Trent, a senior.

Other students felt proud to have helped a fellow, younger student.

“It was neat to be able to help someone so young overcome a difficulty in their life,” said senior RJ Hoth.

“It felt really impactful. We made a difference,” noted senior Daniel Burnett.

Added Anton Epskamp, also a senior: “It was a good feeling knowing that you helped design something that could make someone’s life easier.”

Stella’s mom, Kim Malpass, expressed gratitude to the teachers and students for their efforts to help her daughter. “I feel that we are very fortunate,” Malpass said. “We may have gotten the service that we are getting if we lived somewhere else, but there is no way that we would be getting the love and compassion that these people have given us, especially Jodi Carroll. She has always been there trying to come up with ways to make our lives easier.”

As for the students, Malpass said: “They are working on something that could potentially change my daughter’s life and I have no doubt that they will come up with a wonderful solution once all of the trials and tweaks are finished.”

The project has been so impactful that it has caught the attention of the Michigan Department of Education and even Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, both of which have requested additional details.  

Carroll, Stella’s OT, sees her student soaring even further with her new independence: “As Stella grows, I hope that we all take pride in knowing that our collective efforts will allow her to take on the world, without anything holding her back!”

About Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC)

Stella was born with Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), or simply Arthrogryposis, a congenital joint contracture in two or more areas of the body.  Children born with one or more joint contractures have abnormal fibrosis of the muscle tissue causing muscle shortening. Therefore, they are unable to perform active extension and flexion in the affected joint or joints.

AMC affects approximately 1 in 3,000 individuals. It is present at birth.

What they had to say

From the Drafting and Design students:

The evolution of device prototypes formulated by the students. The device at the top is the near-final design of the device.

“This project involved a lot of problem solving and critical thinking.” Austin Oldham

“This project involved a lot of problem solving and thinking about the problem in its entirety. We had to look at it from different angles and use a lot of resources.” Trent Allen

“This project used a lot of creativity. You had to create something raw in your head.” Anton Epskamp

“This project involved a lot of brainstorming and working together with other people. It was a lot of team work.” Krista Merritt

“It was neat to be able to help someone so young overcome a difficulty in their life.” RJ Hoth

“I used my knowledge of CAD and brainstorming on this project.” Corey Carlson

“It felt really impactful. We made a difference.” Daniel Burnett

“It was eye opening to see that we could make a difference.” Austin Oldham

“It was unique to see the number of ideas we had flying around and how complicated they could get.” Trevor Whitney

“It was unique that we applied this project to a real life situation. Normally, when we talk about problem solving it’s not likely expanded upon in real life experiences.” Jayson LaGrou

“I liked that it wasn’t out of a textbook. It was real life. I think that’s what school needs more of; real life experiences.” Trent Allen

“It wasn’t part of normal school curriculum. It connected the students in a more personal way.” Anton Epskamp

“The design was challenging because of all of the limitations we had regarding size and functionality.” Braeden Colberg

“I enjoyed helping someone using all of the technology we have.” Gavin Dyer

“It was great that we were actually affecting someone positively.” Gerard Conti

“It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to help someone like this in such a big way.” Ty Ross

“Not many people in high school get to help an elementary student do something on their own.” Krista Merritt

“It felt like we were doing something important.” RJ Hoth

“It felt good knowing the project was for a good cause.” Sean Redman

“It was a good feeling knowing that you helped design something that could make someone’s life easier.” Anton Epskamp

“It felt good that we could possibly help this person in their daily life.” Ty Ross

“I felt really happy helping another person and I kind of want to do it more!” Krista Merritt

“I felt important. We were changing her life, even if it was on a small scale.” Marlee Tache

“I felt like I was making a difference.” Corey Carlson

“I felt a little nervous about this project and whether or not what I was doing would help.” Jayson LaGrou

“It was fun thinking outside the box.” Gerard Conti

“It was great working for someone in our community, who we actually met.” Joe Farley

“It felt amazing to help another person and it’s great that we can continue to follow up with her.” Jack Izzard

“It was a great opportunity to use our skills to help someone in the community.” Sean Redman

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