BROOKVILLE — The Brookville Area School District is the first of the 17 schools in the Riverview Intermediate Unit 6 to use one of the telepresence robots the IU purchased this year through a grant.

According to Jason Williams, the director of technology at IU6, Senate Bill 1275 that was passed during the 2017-2018 regular session, provided grant opportunities to intermediate units to receive telepresence robots. The robots can then be lent out to school within the intermediate unit.

“The telepresence robots would be able to help students that are homebound due to an illness or some other reason, they can control this robot from their home computer and drive around the school and participate in the school day,” Williams said.

The IU applied for the grant for telepresence robots, and was successful in the application. They now have eight telepresence robots for the schools they serve.

Brittany Nowaki, the special education director at Brookville, heard the IU was applying for the grant, and kept up-to-date on the application process. The IU first applied in November last year, before COVID was even on anyone’s mind.

“When I first heard about you applying for the grant, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the process,” Nowaki said.

Brookville has been the first school to use one of the robots thanks to Nowaki’s enthusiasm. The robot has already been put to use by students, giving the IU an idea of how they will work and any bugs that need to be worked on.

Nowaki said the biggest problem Brookville has run into has been the height of the robot. She said that in certain classrooms it is hard to find a spot where students can see the board appropriately while not blocking other students.

“Other than that, they’ve absolutely loved it,” Nowaki said.

Especially today in the pandemic environment, this is even more true. The money from the grant was released in June this year, and the robots were delivered to IU6 in August.

Williams is also the technology director for IU4, and they have had telepresence robots since about five years ago. Once the grant opportunity came up, there was a need so IU6 decided to go after the opportunity.

The quality of the robots is also much better for the students than a zoom call when it comes to seeing the classroom to take notes.

“The infrastructure is a big part of it, and about five years ago we used E-rate money to completely redo our wireless network anticipating that we’d be going one-to-one eventually. So, we built the wireless network to support a one-to-one environment which in turn means there’s basically a wireless access point in every class room and some hallways,” said Matt Simmons, the director of technology for the district.

Students who use the robot are given a website to go to, and a log-in specifically for one of the robots. The entire program is browser based, so anyone with access to the internet at home can use one if they need to.

There are two cameras on the robot, one on the tablet which the student can control to tilt up and down, and a second that points down in case a student runs into anything. There is also a teacher accompanying the robot at all times as students navigate the school.

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