PHILADELPHIA — When doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital wanted ideas on how to make hospitals less scary for children, they turned to some experts on being children — seventh-graders in Kevin Jarrett’s STEM class at the Northfield Community School.

In the first partnership of its kind, the Jeff DESIGN program staff visited the school and met weekly with students through Skype as they developed their ideas over 10 weeks in the Kids Designing for Kids project.

On Monday, the three winning projects were presented to the staff, who applauded their designs and gave them feedback for improvement.

“There were others that were amazing, too,” said Laura Kenny, a child life specialist. “These were just the three we thought could be developed quickly.”

The three projects were a MakerBox and MiniBox designed by Hanna Thulin-Guzejko, 13; an app called “My Hospital Buddy” by Lucy Van den Heuvel, 13; and the “Hugmostat” developed by the team of Mason Ricciotti, 13, Rachel Lischin, 12, Logan Russo, 13, Emily Shenkus, 13, and Ella Sher, 13. Each gave a presentation, demonstrated their prototype and fielded questions from the Jefferson staff.

Thulin-Guzejko described her MakerBox and MiniBox as sort of their school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classroom in a box for children, to give them interesting activities to do while in a hospital. The MakerBox for older kids would include a mini-3D printer that prints out a Smart phone and a mini robot. Children would get markers to decorate their box and could take it with them when they leave the hospital.

Pediatrician Amanda Micucio, who directs the pediatric in-patient unit, said many of their patients are poor and might not otherwise have access to many of the items in the box.

“It would make the hospital less scary and also expose them to something new,” she said.

Pediatric clinical charge nurse Krista Taylor suggested adding instructions for some of the items.

Van den Heuvel explained how her app would include a virtual hospital tour, a “try it yourself” section where children could try out different medical equipment on a virtual child patient, and a parent section with all of the forms they would need to fill out for the hospital.

“It would use graphics, videos and games to explain hospital procedures,” she said.

Neil Gomes, vice president of technology, innovation and consumer experience at Jefferson was impressed.

“This is why I brought my staff,” he said. “You captured all of the things that are needed.”

He called Van den Heuvel a “noticer,” or a person who sees problems and does something about them.

Kenny said part of her job is helping children understand why they are in the hospital, and they do a lot of medical role-playing.

“This could work for all ages,” she said.

The “hugmostats” are a menagerie of 10 colorful stuffed animals that can also hold a thermometer. The team had a thorough presentation explaining how they chose the animals, names and the colors to be warm, soothing and friendly. Children could pick one when they were admitted, then take it home with them.

Kenny said one of her hopes was that the students would look at medical equipment in a different way to make it less threatening.

“You did that,” she said.

Dr. Robert Pugliese said they had heard about some of teacher Kevin Jarrett’s projects and reached out to him through Twitter. Jarrett jumped at the opportunity to give his students a real-life project.

Dr. Bon S. Ku, who teaches in the JeffDESIGN program said the Northfield students’ projects are similar to what he is doing with medical students. He was impressed with their ability to design a prototype of their idea.

“Their ability to think with their hands is something we don’t do enough” he said. “We talk a lot. We also have to start building and creating.

Jarrett credits the support of school Principal Glenn Robbins and interim Superintendent Robert Garguilo..

“Hundreds of people can do what I’ve done,” he said. “What they need is a principal and superintendent to let them.”

He said the partnership with Jefferson gave the students a chance to make a difference.

“Jeff provided more than encouragement,” he said. “They gave us the opportunities to bring ideas alive. You’re making hospitals less scary for children. If that’s not changing the world I don’t know what is.”

Students liked that their ideas could help people.

“It was the most fun school assignment, knowing that what we made could help kids,” said Lischin.

Students also got to visit “The Vault,” a former bank vault where the Jeff DESIGN project is under development.

Ku said they would definitely be interested in developing the students’ designs. Robbins said they’ve already gotten the paperwork to apply for patents.

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressDamico

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