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Project has detention youth construct prosthetics

Holding prosthetic hands are, from left, Kristy Pytash, Ph.D. from Kent State University School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies and Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio. Also pictured, right, is Detention Superintendent Melissa Gerney. (Photo courtesy of the Summit County Juvenile Court).  

Published: August 16, 2019

AKRON––Community service for court-involved youth normally entails volunteerism at a local venue or maintenance work. But, for the youth in the Summit County Detention Center, a summer project took such service to a new level. They spent a portion of the summer providing the very definition of a helping hand.

For the past 10 years, Kristy Pytash, Ph.D., and Lisa Testa, Ph.D., from the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at Kent State University, have partnered with the Summit County Juvenile Detention Center staff and teachers on a learning program for detention center youth entitled, “Designing Identities,” encouraging youth to explore their creativity.

For the last three years, they have offered a Summer Learning Institute.

Pre-service teachers from the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Kent State co-planned and co-taught, engaging interdisciplinary lessons that featured hands-on curriculum.

This year’s project took the term “hands-on” literally.

Through funding from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, the nonprofit organization, Hands of Gratitude, introduced an opportunity for youth in the detention center to build 21 prosthetic hands for children in the United States and Honduras and helped supervise the youth during the project along with Pytash and the Kent State students.

The youth assembled the plastic parts of the hand, the palm, wrist and fingers. Once they assembled parts that didn’t involve metal or wire, the pre-service teachers continued the assemblage and completed the prosthetic.

The prosthetic has Velcro straps that can be attached to the arm. Using muscle control in the arm, the recipient can manipulate the prosthetic, allowing it to flex and clench, and there are rubber grips at the end of each finger to aid it picking up items.

The project taught the youth more than how to construct the prosthetics. What they learned could last a lifetime. Through a series of interdisciplinary lessons, they considered the following questions: What does it mean to do for others?, How can they do for others? and What is the impact of doing for others?   

In order to prepare for assembling the prosthetic hands, youth learned about the anatomy of the hand. This included learning about what a hand looks like underneath the skin and its complexities in structure and function.

In addition, students did activities to learn more about how the body moves in everyday interests, such as sports, walking, and playing.

Finally, students studied how the body recovers after an injury and the immediate and long-term physical coping.

The curriculum Included:

• Designing a social media campaign for Hands of Gratitude.

• Learning about the anatomy of the hand

• Sculpting clay hands

• Responding to literature about loss and hope

• Creating a photo essay about hope and loss

• Participating in activities to learn about how hands move and how the body recovers after injuries

Some of the youth personalized the experience in a letter to some of the recipients of the prosthetic hands. One youth wrote the following to a boy in Honduras who lost his hand and was going to receive one:

“Hola: I’m from Ohio which is in the United States of America. I’m 17 and I really had fun building your hand. I hope the best for you and your family for the hard times. You just got to keep your head up high because there is a whole lot of good things that are coming your way. Always remember there’s someone thinking and praying for the best for you and your family. Sincerely, your friend from Ohio.”

Another wrote: “I hope you benefit from your new hand. It was made from a lot of love and kindness. But remember, despite your disabilities you are perfect no matter what. Be true to yourself and never let hate bring you down.”

The work the youth did was recently displayed before court staff, including Judge Teodosio, and community and family members.

A demonstration of how the prosthetics worked was performed by the youth and they answered questions about the experience and the lessons learned during the project.

“I used to take my hands for granted,” said one girl. “Now that I’ve seen everything it takes to make a hand work, and how difficult it would be to not be able to use it, that really made me think and it made me work harder on getting the hand we built done.”

Said another youth, “It makes me feel good knowing that we did something that’s going to help someone who had something bad happen to them.”

Needless to say, the project was a success, and the least surprised person was Pytash.

“It was so encouraging from the very start to see how engaged and excited the kids were when we brought this to them,” she said. “But, it’s the same reaction we get so often when you allow them to reach beyond what they think are their limitations, only for them to find they can accomplish anything when they put their mind to it.”

Perhaps the most impressed person who saw the demonstration was Judge Teodosio.

“This project was so unique in so many ways,” she said. “It went beyond the construction of the prosthetics, which was remarkable enough. It was the devotion the kids in detention applied to the project, and the genuine reactions they had knowing their hard work was going to help other people.”