Trenton schools have new tool to help students with disabilities

By Crystal Burns

“Hi, my name is Milo.”

A three-foot robot with tall, spiky hair introduced himself to the Trenton Special School District board members during their May 1 meeting.

Milo was created by Robokind primarily to work with students with autism, helping them connect academically, socially, and behaviorally.

Amy Allen, supervisor of Pupil Services & Instructional Technology, met Milo two years ago at a Special Education conference in Memphis. After their meeting, she began reading research on Milo and said students’ faces started popping into her head. She set up a demonstration for teachers and Cassie Prestininzi, the district’s speech-language pathologist.

“They liked him as much as I did,” Allen said.

The district purchased Milo with a grant, and Allen and Prestininzi are eager to get him into the classroom.

“We do have students across our district who either cannot communicate or they can talk but they don’t know how to interact with others,” Allen said. “I’m pretty immersed in the world of disability between my personal life and my professional life, and one of the first things when you meet a parent of a child with a significant disability, one of the very first questions usually they ask you or you ask them, is does your child talk. And if your child does talk, can they interact with others, so we’re so excited to have this opportunity, and we hope that we’re going to be able to use Milo to help some of our kids that aren’t able to interact with others. We hope he’s going to help us help them cross that bridge.”

Milo is designed around autistic students’ strengths, and he never gets tired or frustrated. He is always patient and can repeat himself as many times as needed. Milo can also see, hear, and make human-like expressions. He is able to record and collect data that can be reviewed by teachers or therapists. His software allows him to control tablets to deliver interactive lectures, demonstrations, and video lessons that can help a wide range of students on the autism spectrum.

Prestininzi showed the board how Milo connects with a student’s tablet and a teacher’s tablet to allow both of them to participate in lessons. Milo even took one school board member through a calm-down procedure.

Allen said she and Prestininzi would introduce Milo to small groups of students first, hopefully before school lets out later this month. They’ll officially put him to work in the classroom in August. She said Milo would work with students with disabilities other than autism as well.

“We can’t wait to get started using him,” she said.

Verizon contract – Director of Schools Tim Haney told the board that Tom Ferrell, who has worked with the district the past couple of years to erect a tower on the Peabody High School campus, has a signed contract with Verizon in hand. The contract calls for Verizon to start paying rent on the tower beginning in September. The district will get 25 percent of the earnings until Ferrell gets his money back on his initial investment. Then he’ll split it 50-50 with the district.

Haney said Ferrell expects to have a lot of business on the tower within 12 to 18 months but he didn’t share any projections with Haney.

Resignations – Haney announced the resignations of Chelsea Martin, a teacher assistant at Trenton Elementary, and Tracy Simmons, Coordinated School Health assistant. Simmons is returning to work for the Exchange Club Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in July, but Haney said they have worked it out for her to continue to coach Peabody volleyball.

“She’s done a really good job with our volleyball program, and that’s gone well,” Haney said. “The culture in that program is really good.”

Earlier in the meeting, Simmons requested and received permission to take the team to a volleyball camp in Rolla, Mo. Team members are raising the money to go to the camp.

“We’re trying to kick our program here up a notch,” she said. “We’re really, really working on getting our players kicked up another level.”

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