Victoria ISD students modify car for disabled preschooler
Abel Salazar, 4, drives a battery-operated Jeep in the halls of Dudley Elementary School, while his therapists and classmates watch. Photo: Angela Piazza, Victoria Advocate
Occupational therapist Amanda Kern holds up Abel Salazar, 4, so he can look out the window at Dudley Elementary School. photo Angela Piazza, Victoria Advocate
Abel Salazar, 4, laughs with occupational therapist Amanda Kern after unlatching the hood of his battery-operated Jeep at Dudley Elementary School. photo Angela Piazza, Victoria Advocate
Abel Salazar, 4, drives a battery-operated Jeep in the halls of Dudley Elementary School. Third-grade students press their faces against a glass door to watch the Go Baby Go Jeep drive past. photo Angela Piazza, Victoria Advocate
"He was scared at first, then he saw the Captain America sign and his face turned into a big huge smile," said Abel's mother, Brenda Fernandez, 27. "After that, he got on it. There's no better feeling than seeing your son smile."
Cheryl Clark's Victoria West High School Engineering Math students modified, as part of the nationwide program called Go Baby Go, a child's electric car to accommodate Abel, whose disability prevents him from being mobile on his own.
"The ultimate goal is independence," said Amanda Kern, occupational therapist.
Abel, who is nonverbal, was born without some fully formed bones in his body, said Dana Curtis, district lead for related service groups.
His feet are where his knees are and he has several dislocated joints, she said.
Abel's arms are also shorter than normal, Fernandez said.
Learning how to press the buttons will give her son more independence, she said.
"Ever since he was a baby, we've always said we want him to be the same as anyone else, he is no different," she said. "We never told him you can't do it."
This is his second year in the district's Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities, Curtis said.
She said during therapy, she works with Abel on cognitive and social skills. Therapy includes teaching him to walk and push his wheelchair.
"He cried," Curtis said about the first time she worked with Abel and his car. After a quick rest, he was awed by the light up buttons, horn and radio.
"For now, we'll let him have fun, and later come up with obstacles," she said.
The more Abel learns how to use the car, the better chance he has in the future to be a candidate for a mobility chair, she said.
Brianne Harryman proposed the power mobility project to Michelle Goebel, the district's special education director.
Transforming the car began in September and included moving the seat forward, stabilizing the seat and rewiring the foot accelerator to the steering wheel.
Senior Drew Sanchez, 17, and junior Chris Ralston, 16, modified the seat position for Abel.
Students used a culmination of knowledge from their previous classes to complete the large project, which turned out to be more fun than work, Chris said.
Although their adjustment was the least visible, senior James DeBord and senior Elyssa LeBlanc completed the electrical work, which required much testing.
Sophomore Roel Arias and junior James Fitzgerald added safety features to the vehicle, which included a five-point strap belt.
The students said they agreed the project gave them a real world look into math and engineering.
The high school students plan to display photos of their design online for other students looking to participate in the Go Baby Go project, said James, 17.
Three more modified miniature cars are in the works for different students, each with different needs, Curtis said. One more car will be modified this year.
"We're making art, then we display it in our own way for others to create something beautiful," James said.
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