Teacher Ben Edwards points to the number 75 written on the board in his seventh-grade math class at Mohawk Junior High School in Lawrence County, Pa.
“Is this going to round up to 80 or down to 70?” he asks all the students before calling on one to answer. “Cris?”
From a half-mile away in his bedroom at home, Cris Colaluca correctly answers, “Up!”
Edwards can hear and see Cris clearly through a screen set atop a 4-foot-tall, 20-pound mobile robot called a VGo. As the first student in the state to use the technology, according to the company that produces it, Cris is attending school for the first time in six years.
“I was surprised there was something out there to help me,” said Cris, 14, of New Castle, Pa., an affable boy with a crop of curly brown hair and a quick smile.
Cris was born with spina bifida but attended school until his first-grade year, when he developed a rare condition that caused his body to seize almost 90 percent of the night.
“His brain was getting no rest,” said his mother, Terry Colaluca.
The seizures caused respiratory problems as well as achalasia, a disorder affecting the ability of the esophagus to move food toward the stomach. Cris now takes 21 medications daily, including steroids to control the seizures. He has 16 doctors.
Cris no longer can physically tolerate school. For several years, teachers came to his home. He tried a stationary web cam but missed out on the peer interaction he remembered from earlier years.
Last year, Mohawk technology coordinator Theresa McConnell discovered a solution when she saw a news report on the VGo, made by the New Hampshire-based company of the same name.
“I knew that was exactly what we needed,” she said.