CONCORD— A dollhouse, fidgets, personalized blocks and a walker for Lucky the duck were just some of the products created by students during the Fab Lab internship this summer.

Students from each of the Cabarrus County Schools National Academy Foundation (NAF) academies spent three weeks designing solutions for need seekers from across the county. Many of the need-seeking clients were people with various disabilities from local schools or What Matters Most, Inc. which has a mission to obtain and provide services for people with intellectual and development disabilities.

It all started with a grant from the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. Jay M. Robinson’s Academy of Engineering and Automation received a grant from the foundation to the tune of over $51,000 that allowed staff to purchase 10 3D printers.

Academy coordinator Kristi Parlier said they wanted to use the 3D printers to create something meaningful, so they came up with the idea of the Fab Lab to get students their internship hours, teach them about the business world and give them interactions with a different segment of the population.

Through a donation of $3,500 from S&D Coffee and Tea, Parlier said she was going to be able to hire about eight students from Jay M. Robinson to participate since the internships are required to be paid.

But then the academy received a $10,000 donation from Corning Foundation that allowed staff to open the applications to students from other schools.

When the internship kicked off in June, the students met their clients, accessed their needs and came up with solutions.

Fab Lab Reveal

At the end of the three weeks, need seekers and internship stakeholders were invited to an event at Jay M. Robinson where the students revealed what they have been working on.

Each group of students gave a presentation about what they chose to make and the development process, which wasn’t always perfect. The students had to collaborate to keep production going since 3D printing can take up to 36 hours and there were only 10 printers, and come up with solutions when the print didn’t come out quite right.

Many groups had to reconfigure designs when their prints began to warp, which occurs due to material shrinkage and causes the corners to left and detach from the build plate.

But by the day of the big reveal, most of the teams said they were pleased with the outcome.

Chris Illiano’s group made the dollhouse for the Cox Mill special education class so its members could practice putting furniture and other items in their correct location.

“We take things like lifestyle for granted. We know the sink goes in the kitchen and the things that go in the dining room kike a table. We take that for granted because we know that but they don’t. They are learning in those types of classes,” Illiano said. “We decided to do this just because when they came to us they were really open to the ideas that we had, so we just expressed whatever ideas we had and they were like ‘Go for it.’ I had a great time making it.”

The group also made a sound board for a client named Will and fidget items for What Matters Most, Inc. Group member Lizeth Fuentes said originally Will’s physical therapist suggested they make something to help him hold a pencil or paint because he has issues with grip.

“But after meeting his mother and meeting Will it turns out he doesn’t like painting. So we decided to make him something he actually enjoys,” she said. “He enjoys texture and he enjoys noises. So we decided to buy him textured toys and make him a sound board, which Chris made on an app. He will have the opportunity to click certain things that will make a noise since he likes loud noises.”

Another team made doll accessories for their What Matters Most client, a container to store paper and stamps that featured one of their client’s paintings. They also printed items for Liam and Chloe, the children of Rocky River Assistant Principal Tori Brasher.

Both of the children are adopted and had medical issues as babies that still impact them now. Liam suffered severe malnutrition so his body is disproportionate. Because of that, he can’t use the sink and wash his hands by himself.

The team made Liam an item that attaches to the sink handles and allows him to reach out and wash his hands.

They also made Chloe some personalized blocks to work on her fine motor skills since she was born very premature.

Above and beyond

On the day of the reveal, Parlier said the student internship went above and beyond any of her expectations. She hopes to secure funding so the internship can be offered again next year.

In the end of his presentation Illiano said that making 20-to-30 fidgets for his clients in three weeks and all of the other items was tough, but the experience taught him more than he expected.

“We’ve gotten to learn so much about how we need to impact our community and how working in a team basis, we can actually achieve a lot of things in a very short amount of time,” he said. “I think working on a team to team basis, we just decided to make it something to where we could all work together and enjoy the time we had together but also do something very effective as well.”

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