Niagara Gazette

Communities

February 15, 2013

There's a robot in this West Seneca class

Niagara Gazette — WEST SENECA — In an elementary school hallway, a teacher takes her second-graders to the library, leading a single-file line of giggling boys and girls that's perfectly ordinary until you get to a sleek white robot with a video screen showing the face of a smiling, chubby-cheeked boy.

Devon Carrow's life-threatening allergies don't allow him to go to school. But the 4-foot-tall robot with a wireless video hookup gives him the school experience remotely, allowing him to participate in class, stroll through the hallways, hang out at recess and even take to the auditorium stage when there's a show.

What's most remarkable is how unremarkable this gee-whiz technology is viewed by his classmates. In a class of 7-year-olds raised on video games, avatars and remote-controlled toys, they don't see a robot. They just see Devon.

Just before class one recent day, a girl leaned toward the robot to tell Devon the joke making the rounds at Winchester Elementary School: Why did the boy eat his homework? The teacher told him it was a piece of cake.

That Devon isn't actually there is barely acknowledged. While making get-well cards for him during a hospital stay last year, his classmates all drew him as a boy, not a bot.

"In the classroom, the kids are like, 'Devon, come over, we're doing Legos. Show us your Legos,'" says teacher Dawn Voelker.

"I wondered how the little kids would take to him, thinking they'd be amazed," adds Principal Kathleen Brachmann. "But I think kids are so tech-savvy now that they accept it more than we do."

Even Devon doesn't quite get what all the fuss is about. Steering the four-wheeled robot through school and spinning around to see the classmates is just another mouse-and-keyboard challenge.

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