Lake Highland Prep students impact lives by upgrading toy cars

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Lake Highland Preparatory School students part of the robotics program and volunteers stand behind modified toy vehicles they worked on. The school partnered with Go Baby Go, a program that provides modified cars for kids with disabilities, on Jan. 13 to give five kids a car. (BRENDA ARGUETA)

Students from the robotics program at Lake Highland Preparatory School cheered on toddlers who were testing out their new toy vehicles, but these were not your average Fisher-Price cars.

Over 90 students and volunteers spent Saturday morning modifying the cars to cater them to the five children with disabilities who would receive them.

The cars had push-to-go buttons placed on the steering wheel, so that the kids could use their hands instead of their feet to make it move. The students used drills and other tools to make additions to the cars or to rework the wiring for the push-to-go button.

This new partnership between Lake Highland and Go Baby Go, a program that started at the University of Delaware to provide modified toy cars to children with disabilities, kicked off this year after Armann Shaikh, 17, pitched the idea to Lake Highland.

He met Dr. Jennifer Tucker, clinical assistant professor at UCF who helped start Go Baby Go in Central Florida, at the Orlando Science Center’s Otronicon convention two years ago. The convention brings companies from all over to present their latest engineering projects. That year, Tucker brought a modified toy car.

“It was just such a good opportunity that kind of fell right in our laps,” Shaikh said. “We didn’t really want to pass it up.”

The students had to raise money for the vehicles, with each car costing between $300 and $500 to buy and modify. Shaikh had to present to the school about the Go Baby Go fundraiser.

“I think it was really difficult for me to put aside what I thought were my problems and really think about what the kids’ problems were and how it was really important for them to get this fundraiser,” Shaikh said.

Tucker said this was the first time a Go Baby Go event involved children across elementary, middle and high school. She said these workshops where kids are building for other kids are just as important as the modified vehicle itself.

“I need the babies that I serve to grow up and have friends, and the only way they’re going to have friends is if I can get children that are in schools to understand that children with disabilities are the same in a lot of ways,” Tucker said.

The Lake Highland students separated into five teams to work on each vehicle designated for each of the five families. The families got to meet the people working on the cars for their children and they also got to decorate them with stickers to personalize them.

Jen and Nic Piner are parents to Nash, just 11 months old, who has Down syndrome. They said events like this help break the barriers of the older mindset of expectations with an individual with Down syndrome.

“It’s bringing up a generation older than Nash to help them understand and want to make impacts on his life and children that are like him,” Nic said.

This was the fifth workshop where kids built for other kids and Tucker said this model was something she wants to continue.

“I saw this as an avenue to harness the talents of kids because they’re super smart, but also expose them to children with all sorts of abilities and begin to build a bridge [to] bring community,” Tucker said.

Shaikh is moving on to college at the end of the school year, but he isn’t worried about the partnership coming to an end when he leaves.

“There are a lot of families in Orlando, because it’s such a densely populated community, with kids that could benefit from something like this,” Shaikh said. “I definitely think it’s something that will continue in the future.”

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