BY JANIE ROSMAN
For most students, part of their fun at school comes from socializing with friends in class.
Since March, Vincent Forzono has been interacting with his peers at James A. Farley Elementary School via a VGo — a virtual student presence that sat in his place in class so he could talk, listen, sit and learn with his friends from his home.
“He likes the fact that he feels that he is a part of and enjoys interacting with his peers and being able to learn at the pace of the 5th graders,” Danielle Hurley said of her son.
That wasn’t always so for the 10-year-old Stony Point resident, who had been receiving home instruction since November.
The VGo was acquired through North Rockland school district’s partnership with the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center (LHRIC), a division of SW BOCES that provides educational technology services for public schools in Rockland, Westchester and Putnam County Region.
School districts avail themselves of these services as part of a New York State educational service agency shared service agreement receiving discounts and state aid on purchases and services. LHRIC Instructional Technology Manager Sarah Martabano saw one of the machines at a state-wide distance education meeting and thought it would help a home-bound student.
Each VGo has a camera, microphones and a video display on a light-weight, motorized, remote-controlled platform. His school provided Forzono with a laptop that has a web cam so his classmates can see him in class.
Forzono controls the machine and sends it to a docking station to recharge overnight.
“Southern Westchester helped so much to educate the district on the new technology as well as let Vincent be the trial student so it would be of no cost to the district,” Hurley said. “Vincent has been doing really well with the robot and enjoys driving it all around the school.”
“The pilot program was a way for both the district and the LHRIC to understand the technology and classroom integration strategies necessary for VGO to be useful and successful with students,” Martabano explained. “School district administrators are essential to the process for understanding and communicating the value of this technology to stakeholders in the community and more importantly the student and their families.”
Diagnosed with hydrocephalus with continuous growth of the ventricles — a rare condition that causes fluid buildup throughout his body — at age 2, Forzono has had a difficult road and multiple surgeries.
“This (VGo) has helped him so much emotionally and mentally,” Hurley said.
School principal Avis Shelby said this is the district’s first experience with the VGo, and “we were happy to be able to keep Vincent connected.” If there’s a need, and the district has the partnership, “we will continue to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The LHRIC will be offering VGo Virtual Student Presence as a fee-based, aided service to districts beginning in 2015/16. The service includes rental of the device, technical support, professional development for the teacher and student.