Full Speed Ahead!

Middle Schoolers use Minimester to help kids with disabilities gain a new sense of independence.

Story and photos by Tessa Reagan ’16

Minimester is a time for Middle School students to take their learning outside the classroom, to expand their horizons and explore specific areas in ways they might never have thought of before. Since the first Minimester in 1982, students have spent their time doing all sorts of exciting things, from exploring African American history to touring DC’s art museums to taking trips to places like China and England and the Amazon rainforest. Each Middle Schooler must also complete at least one service project between 5th and 8th grade—a requirement for which opportunities abound.

As part of one new service-oriented Minimester, students work with the Go Baby Go! program, which aims to help children with disabilities move independently by providing them with rewired electric kids’ cars. Volunteers adapt the cars so that the children can operate them on their own.

One of the first things students do is visit the Good Beginnings physical therapy center in Falls Church, Virginia. They observe sessions for kids ranging from 18 months to age 7 and find out how physical therapy for children differs from physical therapy for adults. They also chat with staff members, who give them tips on how to talk about disability. For example, rather than using the term “normal,” staff members recommend “typically developing” or “non-typically developing.”

Another trip the group takes is to the digital fabrication lab—or the FAB lab, to people in the know—at Marymount University, where a group called e-NABLE creates 3D-printed arm prosthetics. There, the students examine some of the child-sized hands, which are sometimes made with themes from children’s favorite comics, like Wonder Woman and Captain America. Amazingly, 3D prosthetics are much cheaper to make than typical prosthetics—a fact that inspired one group of students to wonder if they could start printing hands at school!

The highlight of the Minimester, of course, is building the electronic cars themselves. Students work hard to modify three mini-Jeeps for children with disabilities, and once they’re finished, the cars’ new owners stop by to try them out. One of the kids receiving a new Go Baby Go! Jeep was so excited that—after zooming ecstatically around the building—she repeated “fun, fun, fun!” all the way home, and her parents decided they’d better pick up the car the next day, instead of later in the week as they’d planned.

By the time Minimester ends, students have become passionate about ending the stigma around people with disabilities. They are full of plans and ideas, such as forming a club dedicated to building cars and prosthetic hands, supporting a GoBabyGo! summer program at Sidwell Friends, and telling their friends and peers about what they’ve learned.

View a Selection of Project Photos

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