Megan stays strong in her studies with help of robot and friends

“Team Megan,” pictured here with the robot that allowed Megan to continue attending classes and having lunch with her friends at Paintsville Independent Schools despite her illness.

Megan Brooke Ferguson’s dream to become a doctor is on track with the help of a robot, her teachers and friends even after she began her battle with leukemia as a sixth grader in Paintsville Elementary.

Megan, now 15 and a freshman at Paintsville High School, is in remission after spending more than 160 days in the Cabell Huntington Hospital, Huntington, West Virginia, while undergoing heavy doses of Methotrexate chemotherapy. Because of the treatment she was too weak to go to school and her decreased immune system made it unwise for her to attend.

A robot entered her life to allow her to continue her education and stay in contact with her friends who formed a group to support her, “Team Megan.”

Megan became ill just prior to the start of school in 2015. While she was undergoing treatment the school district’s Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative innovation coordinator Bryan Auxier obtained a robot given by KVEC. He got the idea to use the robot purchased through funds by the United States Department of Education “Race to the Top” grant to enable Megan to go to classes.

Megan learned to control the robot’s movement with a smart phone, iPad and her laptop while the iPad on the robot livestreamed her class to her hospital room or house. Her friends Hailey Wells, Emily Snyder, and others assisted getting the robot to classes when needed, especially when necessary to get in the elevator.

The robot allowed her to stay in contact with her friends and keep from being so lonely. “Being sick and away from your friends is depressing,” Megan explained. One day she said she wished she could go to lunch with her friends. Arrangements were made for the robot to go to the lunch room and stand by the dining table, so she could interact with her peers. “I loved lunch time,” she added.

“I loved the robot… it was fun and cool to drive it around. She and her friends did not give the robot a name. Emily and Hailey said they simply saw Megan’s face on the robot’s screen and Megan saw her friends and her teachers. “I don’t know what I would have done without the robot and my friends,” Megan added.

“We wanted Megan to know we had her back,” stated Emily and Hailey. “We are so proud of her.”

The support of her teachers, friends and advanced technology enabled her to advance to the freshman years in the fall meeting the required academic standards. Carolyn Leckie, the school’s home hospital teacher, provided support and instruction at home and the hospital. Carolyn is retiring this year after 31 years of instruction.

KVEC Executive Director Dr. Jeff Hawkins honored Megan remotely through the robot in 2016 during the Forging Innovation in Rural Education (FIRE) summit in Pikeville, which was livestreamed to thousands of viewers through the organization’s digital platform “The Holler.” Hawkins presented the award for her dedication to learning by using robot telepresence to attend class even when her cancer treatments kept her away from school this year. The RTT grant enabled KVEC to have the largest roll out of Next Generation classroom technology in rural America’s history. The technology was distributed to 100 schools in a geographical area larger than the state of Connecticut in just six weeks.

The school district’s use of “Google Classroom” also was helpful for Megan to keep up in her classes, view documents and submit assignments. Classroom is a recent tool in Google Apps for Education that helps teachers create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and easily communicate with their classes. Classroom helps students organize their work in Google Drive, complete and turn it in, and communicate directly with their teachers and peers. It weaves together Google Docs, Drive and Gmail to help teachers create and collect assignments paperless. They can quickly see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback to individual students.

Paintsville Independent School District Superintendent David Gibson praised Megan as an inspiration to the school and community adding,” Paintsville Independent has always exemplified what individualized student instruction looks like. We are proud to offer these unique services to all our students.”

Megan states that she wants to become a doctor, so she can help others like the doctors helped her. Asked on what advice she wishes to share with others facing a similar illness she says, “Stay strong and not give up.”

She states that the illness matured her and made her more appreciative of life. Megan has kept her smile which brightens the room around others. She is continuing physical therapy to address the nerve damage in her legs which causes pain as she stands and walks. “I will stay strong.”

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