“In this course students will make a valuable, positive, and concrete contribution to a community by utilizing the design thinking process and making skills,” reads the description of the “Making for Social Good Course” at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland.
“Students will develop and implement empathy, a key element of the design thinking process, to address a need within a community (local, regional, or global) rather than a personal need or desire,” the description on the school’s website continues. “Students will use the tools of the BITlab to make a product or service that can positively affect the lives of others, will understand the impact they can have on the world, and learn the skills necessary to act upon that knowledge.”
The course was developed by teacher Matt Zigler, who wanted to give students a beneficial project with real-world ramifications. It sounds great, and if you ask Jeremy King, it is great.
Jeremy was a recipient of a recent product of the course, and it means the world to him.
It all started three years ago, when he had a brain tumor removed and ended up having difficulty with his balance. He could walk on his own and get around, but in 2020 he and his wife found out they were pregnant — and quickly realized Jeremy would be limited in some of his interactions with his baby.
“While he can walk, he can’t do so safely carrying a child,” his wife, Chelsie King, told “Good Morning America.” “So we jumped into, ‘OK, what do we need in order for him to parent safely?’ and honestly, not a whole lot came up — there’s just really not a ton of resources out there for disabled parents.”
That’s where the Making for Social Good students came in. Chelsie, who works at Bullis, connected with Zigler last fall, and a project was born.
Utilizing their problem-solving skills and a product called “Maker Pipe,” the group of 10 students came up with a unique, safe solution for Jeremy and his son, Phoenix.
“The idea of the course is to start out by trying to understand the problem, so we did interviews with the family,” Zigler said.
“We talked to somebody at the local fire department who actually does infant car seat installation training to try to better understand how those things work.”
Students designed 3D models and compared them, and settled on two. They wanted to ensure Jeremy had a longer-term solution to his problem, so they made attachments for two different stages in Phoenix’s life.
The first product they designed was a wheelchair attachment that could hold an infant car seat, facing the wheelchair user. They called it the “WheeStroll Stroller Attachment.”
The second product was created to connect the wheelchair to an actual stroller — the “WheeStroll Stroller Connector.”
With frequent check-ins to ensure their design was looking good to Jeremy, the students built some parts on the school’s 3D printer, sourced parts from the local hardware store, borrowed a wheelchair from the school nurse and tested out the load capacity with cinder blocks to ensure the attachment could hold a baby.
“It was certainly emotional seeing the process and everything that went into this,” Jeremy said. “I really feel the students took all my concerns to heart when creating the prototypes.”
With their products complete, all that was left was for the new father to take them for a spin, something he was very much looking forward to and finally got to do shortly after Phoenix was born in March.
“Using it was overwhelming because I never thought I would be able to do something like this with our son,” he said. “Most people can go out on a walk with their family but that is really difficult for me — most people take that for granted.”
The Kings are thrilled with the results, but the benefits go far beyond that: The students have seen that they can be part of a solution, helping people with their skills, and the designs have been shared online, available to anyone who might find the attachments useful.
“We were all very goal-oriented,” one of the students, 18-year-old Jacob Zlotnitsky, said. “We were all focused on successfully making the best product we could in the amount of time we had.”
“I feel fortunate to have been able to take a class that has allowed me to truly make a difference in someone’s life.”
“I love the idea that these students got this project and it’ll be something long lasting,” Chelsie added. “I know that they’ll remember that for years to come, which is all you can hope for as an educator.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.