BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Valerie Fund recently donated an interactive robot to the Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center in Berkeley Heights for use by a kindergarten student suffering from cancer. The student, Alexa D’Amato, was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in July of 2014. She is currently being treated at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and has been out of school for the entire year.
The robot contributed by the Valerie Fund seeks to enable her access to her classmates and a classroom learning experience without her having to leave her home or the hospital. A screen located at the top of the device will project her image and voice, allowing her to speak with fellow students and teachers in a similar manner to Face Time on an iPhone or Skype. From home, Alexa will also be able to move the screen around, as it is attached to a stand on wheels. The device will recreate the classroom environment for Alexa without her physical presence. The school hopes to have the robot up and running before the end of the school year so Alexa can participate in the end-of-the-year activities with her classmates.
The school will use the robot until Alexa’s return. With this device, MaryKay McMillin can bring the classroom to Alexa and Alexa to the classroom.
Over the course of the year, Alexa’s kindergarten class also took part in the “Monkey in My Chair” program to make sure Alexa remained a member of the class despite her absence. Alexa’s kindergarten teacher Karen Twill and principal of Mary Kay McMillin Annie Corley-Hand explained the program.
“It’s just a reminder that Alexa is part of our classroom. We had a speaker from the Valerie Fund come in and speak to the children about Alexa’s disease. Then we introduced Violet, the stuffed monkey that serves as a placeholder for Alexa,” said Twill, “the student response is very positive. Alexa is absent, but Violet is here everyday, holding her spot.”
Violet the monkey is symbolic of Alexa’s presence in the classroom. Although she is home-schooled by a classroom aide, the school does its best to keep her a part of the community. Along with the Monkey in My Chair, students have sent notes home to Alexa wishing her well and hoping for her return to the class.
About the Valerie Fund:
After their nine-year-old daughter Valerie succumbed to cancer, Warren Township residents Sue and Ed Goldstein were determined that no family should have to travel great distances to receive state-of-the-art medical care. Along with a group of close friends, they began fundraising efforts from their living room---tireless work that would lead to the 1977 opening of New Jersey’s first pediatric oncology facility at Summit's Overlook Hospital.
Today, there are seven, not-for-profit Valerie Fund Centers located in New Jersey, New York, and metropolitan Philadelphia staffed with social workers, counselors, psychologists and child life specialists. The hallmark of The Valerie Fund services ensures that families and hospitals do not have to rely on insurance reimbursements to receive the range of support of a multi-disciplinary team. More than 4,000 children with cancer and blood disorders are treated annually---a network that is one of the largest of its kind in the country.
For more information on the Valerie Fund, go to http://www.thevaleriefund.org