When the eighth grade class of Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford went to Israel last month, there was a new stop on the itinerary: The Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem.
Alyn is Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility. And since last year, Schechter’s students have been working with Alyn’s innovation center, which designs solutions to the problems faced by the children it treats.
Last year, the entire seventh grade worked on projects with Alyn as part of Schechter’s Innovation Lab curriculum. Alyn sent the students profiles of patients who were facing specific challenges and then fielded questions from the Schechter students as they worked to develop solutions for those patients.
This year, five of those students, now eighth graders, chose to take on new projects for Alyn in lieu of creating a standard presentation for the school’s science fair.
The projects had been shipped to Israel before the trip; when the students got to Alyn, they were able to explain their work.
For the Schechter staff who supervised the program and took the students to Alyn, the whole project was a way to combine two of the school’s values: empathy and connection with Israel.
“It was an amazing opportunity for the kids to speak about their ideas and their design process, the things that didn’t work and the things that did work,” Ricky Stamler-Goldberg, Schechter’s director of education and Judaic studies said; she had accompanied the students on their trip.
Emma Advocate of Tenafly and Kira B. had taken on the challenge of helping a girl with balance issues who required crutches to walk. How could she carry her lunch?
Their solution: A box that attaches to the crutches, designed to carry a lunch and a drink without spilling.
The biggest challenge: “Finding a way to attach it to the crutch,” Emma said. “There’s a surprising lack of information on how to attach stuff to crutches.”
In the end, Kira said, “We went to Home Depot and got a lot of materials. We used nuts and bolts and Velcro to attach it all.”
As for the Israel visit: “It was nice to meet with the people we had been collaborating with along the way,” Emma said.
Liat Saposh of Englewood and Madison Tesker of Fort Lee were challenged to help a child who had lost his vision — and who had loved playing Chutes and Ladders.
“The task for us was to create a Chutes and Ladders board game that he’s able to play,” Liat said.
What seems like the simplest possible board game becomes a lot more complicated when a player can’t use his eyes. So instead of a die, the girls created a microprocessor-powered gadget with a large button. Press the button, and the machine randomly picks a number between one and six and announces it.
How can a blind player measure the spaces he is supposed to move?
“Each square has different heights, so he can feel the different levels,” Liat said.
Different textures indicate the beginning and end of a ladder that would move a player’s piece up the board, and of a slide that moves it down.
And to help him find his playing piece, Liat and Madison made a contraption — his new token — that makes noise when someone presses a button that’s next to the board.
The girls tested the game on blindfolded participants for their New Milford science fair presentation. And once they were in Jerusalem, although they weren’t able to meet the boy because of covid restrictions, they were able to see a picture of him using the game they had built for them.
“It was really meaningful to be able to know how we helped someone else,” Liat said.
Ella Nadel of Tenafly set out to help a girl named Shira, who doesn’t have a hand — but wanted to learn how to ride a tricycle.
Ella utilized a mechanical prosthetic hand and enabled it to be controlled by electrodes that measure signals from the girl’s arm muscle and opens or closes its grip accordingly.
“I asked Shira a lot of questions,” Ella said. The two girls communicated via email.
“It was more than a science project,” Ella said. “It was great to know that you did something for someone.”
“It was amazing,” Liat said of the experience of inventing. “When I first heard that we needed to come up with a prosthetic hand to work a tricycle, or make a game for someone who can’t see, I was like, ‘How is anyone going to do it?’” But “when you actually go through it, it actually isn’t that hard.
“The fact we were doing it for a purpose made me want to put more effort into it. We worked real hard, day and night, on it.”