Engineering creative solutions

Engineering creative solutions lisadanford May 13, 2024

Engineering creative solutions

A school-to-school partnership is expanding possibilities for Bobbie B. Fairfax students.

Throughout the year, engineering students at Milford High School have repaired switches for the vocational classroom, adapted devices for toys, and repurposed a leaf blower for gym class.

Last fall, Suzanne Sartarelli, a speech language pathologist at Fairfax, met with the engineering students in Peter Leeper’s class. She brought a small box of broken items and a short wish list of projects.

“Many of our students are involved in making pet scarves and catnip bags that we sell but have limited range of motion,” she said. He was very open to the students redesigning equipment to become switch-adapted. They’re learning how to adapt materials to engage our students.”

Sartarelli shared how important these devices and technology are to students at Fairfax, as well as the need to adapt devices for a range of abilities.

Engineering students worked on different projects in small groups. They used laser engravers, a CNC router, and 3D printers to update the devices. “They’re all still growing in their ability to work with different materials and had to learn on the fly,” Leeper said. “Students dealt with this challenge the way any engineer would—they studied the problem, proposed various ways to resolve it, and chose an approach to resolve it.”

One of the biggest improvements is a switch-adapted sewing machine. It’s wireless, so Fairfax students don’t have to use the foot pedal or be right next to the sewing machine to operate it. Another adapted device plugs into various toys to allow Fairfax students to play with the press of the specially designed button.

Leeper said they loved working with Bobbie B. Fairfax, and he’s looking forward to a continued partnership. “My students thrive when doing meaningful work, and they’re blessed to be able to see others benefiting from the work that they do,” he said. “It is so rewarding for me to see students actively engaged with their projects, knowing that they are doing work for a greater purpose than the average school assignment.”

About the projects

Engineering students at Milford High School worked on several projects for students at Bobbie B. Fairfax School, including:

    • Adapted Leaf Blower. Students repurposed a leaf blower the physical education teacher can use during class. The flow, duration, and firing angle of the blower can be adjusted to meet the needs of each activity.  They also added a large, easy-to-press button so students can trigger the blower to launch scarves and balls.
    • Adapted Sewing Machine. Students designed a large, easy-to-press wireless button to control a sewing machine. It also has a mechanism to allow the teacher to control the speed of the machine.
    • Can Crusher. Students repaired an existing can crusher for the vocational education department and designed a new one. 
    • Say it, Play it Switch. The students put significant effort into the Say it Play it switch for toys. They designed a new box and repaired or replaced internal components.
A group of Milford High School engineering students in a classroom. they're smiling and showing devices they repaired for students with disabilities.
A group of high school engineering students in a gym. They're smiling behind an adapted leaf blower they created for students with disabilities. Two staff and a student who uses a wheelchair are also in the photo.

Top: Milford High School engineering students with their teacher Mr. Peter Leeper and Fairfax Speech Language Pathologist Suzanne Sartarelli. Second: The adapted leaf blower allows Fairfax students to participate in different gym activities.

A milford high school student works on an engineering project. there is a circuit board and other tools on the table in front of him.
adapted red switches on a table with children's toys like a t-rex, doll, and truck.

Top: A Milford High School engineering student works on adapting a switch device for Fairfax students. Second: Adapted switches can plug into various toys to allow all students to play.