Robot allows PTECH student time at school away from his illness

JOHNSTOWN — Jordan Rave longed to leave behind the grueling cancer treatments that had dogged his days at Fonda-Fultonville schools and focus on his future as a student in the new Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Pathways in Technology Early College High School, known as PTECH.

With the help of a robot named Double, the freshman from Fultonville was able to claim at least part of that wish in his final months by virtually attending classes at PTECH, which launched in the fall of 2014. Jordan died Jan. 18.
 “He was so looking forward to PTECH; he was so excited about it,” Jordan’s grandmother, Elaine Nettleton said recently.

Jordan was among 50 students in the HFM BOCES region who applied for and was selected to attend the inaugural year of PTECH, a new model for secondary education that uses project-based learning in a technology-rich environment and results in an associate’s degree at no cost to families.

But just as Jordan, 14, was preparing to attend PTECH’s three-week introductory program called the Summer Bridge, the cancer returned. The relapse kept him from physically attending school in the fall.

Double Jordan

Enter Double, a robot from the Masie Center in Saratoga Springs. When Elliott Masie, head of the international think tank focused on learning and technology, learned of Jordan’s challenges, he offered to loan the robot to PTECH so Jordan could attend school virtually. Using an iPad application at home, Jordan was able to control the Segway-style robot. Nettleton described her grandson as tech savvy and very smart. As a teenager who loved gaming, he easily mastered the technology used to maneuver the robot.

Jordan had never before set foot in the school, but with some help from his classmates, he learned to maneuver PTECH’s Learning Commons, where students gather for morning meetings and other times during the day. He attended classes in the school’s innovation spaces (classrooms) and even hung out in the cafeteria for some social time.

double robotics charging dock-1Using Double, not only could Jordan be present to participate in group projects, he also was able to make friends with classmates, most of whom he had never met.

“It made him feel like he was not just at home sick, but that he was part of our class,” said PTECH student Allison Ricci of Johnstown.

Though Jordan initially was shy about his fellow students seeing his face on the iPad’s screen, a beaming smile soon overpowered his apprehension, as students one by one introduced themselves and welcomed him into their social circles.

“He was really nice to talk to,” student Mae Goh of Johnstown said. Through her conversations with Jordan, delivered via Double, Mae discovered the pair had plenty in common, including a love for anime. “We’re both weird and goofy, so we connected right away,” she said.

Just weeks after he had assimilated into some routine at PTECH, Jordan’s condition worsened to the point he could no longer concentrate on schoolwork or maneuver Double around PTECH. Despite his absence from school, the students kept their connection to Jordan open, sending him gifts such as candy and drawings of anime characters he liked.

Hearts were heavy among the PTECH students and staff when they learned Jordan passed away Jan. 18.

Nettleton said she never dreamed Jordan could participate in school at all once he relapsed. She expressed gratitude for the opportunities PTECH and the Masie Center gave him during his last months.

“For him, it was something to take his mind off his sickness and allow him to take interest in his schoolwork,” Nettleton said. “Though he was only able to use it for a short time, it was a great success.”