RESTON, VA – Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School junior Tommy Wright was one of only five finalists nationwide in the ITEEA (International Technology & Engineering Educator's Association) REACH Challenge.

The REACH Challenge is an impactful Adaptive & Assistive Technology (AT) design-thinking project for middle school, high school, and college level STEM programs. Teachers are provided with lesson plans and activities on empathy, user-centered design, and prototyping to lead their students in using their STEM skills to REACH a member of their community who has a challenge to overcome. The project shows teachers how they can help students use their STEM skills for social good and make a real world difference in the lives of those around them. Award winners in 2021 were from across the U.S. from New York to Hawaii.

Tommy Wright's project was to find a way to make it easier for special needs children to type. He built a slant to make it easier for children who have issues with their posture to type more easily. He also suggested organizing keyboard letters in alphabetical order after learning that special needs kids sometimes get confused by keyboards because the letters are mixed up.

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"The REACH challenge was an amazing experience and opportunity to do something beneficial for someone and knowing you made an impact on their life," Wright said. "It gives you a feeling that is indescribable. Throughout this challenge I realized that we take so many things for granted that kids with disabilities have trouble doing daily."

"This challenge helped me realize that everyone is different. After learning about so many of the struggles these kids experience each day, it has really opened my eyes," he added. "Understanding the struggles autistic students experience every day has enabled me to be more selfless and helped make me a better person."

"I'm so proud that Tommy was able to submit the project and to do so exceptionally well," said Kelly Robertson at the Thursday, March 25, meeting of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education.

Top teams receive grants to support their STEM programs, as well as a STEM Swag Bag.

REACH Challenge Winner - $2,000

  • Olathe (Kansas) Northwest High School — IEEAT (Independent Eating Ergonomic Assistive Tool) to give a young woman the independence to feed herself.

REACH Challenge Second Place - $1,000

  • Kalani (Hawaii) High School — A "Magnetic C-Clamp" to help a woman with Cerebral Palsy safely secure her crutches

Finalists – STEM Swag Bag

  • Scotch Plains Fanwood High School — Slanted Platform to Help Special Needs Students
  • State College Area (Pennsylvania) High School — A talking button board which allows a non-verbal kindergartner to be able to express herself
  • John F. Kennedy High School (New York) — A "Peripheral Partner" to help a woman with visual impairments be able to see behind her when using her walker
  • Northern Burlington County (New Jersey) High School — Multi-Use Handle
  • Thomas Hunter Middle School (Virginia) — The Grabber

“The REACH Challenge entries were amazing even though they were dealing with the pandemic constraints as well to complete their collaborative project challenge! I was blown away by these students’ innovations,” said Steve Barbato, ITEEA Executive Director. “We couldn’t be more excited to honor these teams for their accomplishments.”

ITEEA represents more than 35,000 secondary technology and engineering educators in the U.S. alone who are developers, administrators, and university personnel in the field representing all levels of education. ITEEA corporate members are comprised of leading technology companies.

“This project really is life changing, not only for the person receiving the adaptive technology, but for the students and their teachers as well,” said Gavin Wood, an award-winning STEM educator who partnered with ITEEA to develop REACH Challenge. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”