Our gratitude to the JCC and everyone involved for helping us share this cool story more widely with the people in our neighborhood.
A BEAM of Light at the Bender Early Childhood Center
by Andrea Kronzek
“It’s fun to have Max in our class. I like that Max doesn’t bump into too many kids with his robot. The robot helps him learn with his friends at school.” —Sahil, Max’s classmate
Meet Max, a 3-year-old student at the Bender Early Childhood Center. Max has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a motor neuron disease which leads to degeneration of the muscles that help the body to move. Because Max’s mind and sensory nervous system are unaffected, he thinks like a typical child his age.
Kristen and Yahnatan Lasko, Max’s parents, knew that in order to help their bright, differently-abled little boy reach his full potential, they needed to find a welcoming preschool community with teachers and staff who were willing to step into unfamiliar territory. They approached the Bender JCC preschool to discuss enrolling Max.
“The administration was willing to join us on the journey and quickly set about making this a reality,” says Yahnatan.
Because respiratory infections pose a significant risk to children with neuromuscular weakness, Kristen and Yahnatan proposed a telepresence robot as the best idea for how to get Max safely into the classroom. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Max now attends preschool at the Bender JCC via BEAM, a telepresence robot. Max’s BEAM is his daily “avatar” in the classroom; through it, he learns and interacts with the class.
“Max’s teachers, Allyson and Victoriya, prepared the class to explore what it meant to welcome someone new,” Kristen explains. “Max quickly became a beloved member of the class.”
Every day for up to two hours, Max “BEAMs” into class. He loves art, music, chasing friends (and being chased), and talking with his friends.
“We talk with Max about what he is learning in school and marvel at how the interests of the class influence what he chooses to explore at home,” Kristen remarks.
“Having Max join our class through his BEAM robot has been an incredible experience,” says Allyson Levine, Max’s teacher. “The relationship that has formed, and continues to deepen every day between Max and the other children, is inspiring. The children went from being extremely excited about having a robot in our class to simply being excited to have Max in our class. It’s as if they don’t even see the robot anymore. They are all constantly finding new ways to connect with him.”
To his classmates, Max is a good friend who has much to contribute. Eli loves being Max’s classmate. “Max helps us learn about him and his robot. I never want to take my eyes off his robot because it’s so interesting.”
Eli’s mom Elizabeth says that it’s great that we have this technology to allow kids to interact and be exposed to children with differences. “I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet a child they might not have otherwise met.”
Kristen and Yahnatan say they are extremely grateful that the Bender JCC Preschool has welcomed Max, helping him to learn and grow. “The Bender JCC Preschool surpassed our best hopes.”
By the same token, the Bender JCC is grateful to the Lasko family for choosing our preschool and meaningfully enriching the lives of our students, teachers and all who come in contact with Max.