Third-grader Miranda Garcia has missed the majority of the school year because of an illness, but can now attend through an unlikely tool: a robot.
"It's good and it helps me a lot when I am too sick to go to school. I feel a part of the class," Garcia told ABC affiliate KSAT 12.
Garcia, who attends Foster Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, suffers from a severe immune disorder which has allowed her to attend only two weeks of school. Her teacher would conduct a home-bound visit two to three times a week to update Garcia on school work.
The San Antonio Independent School district developed this pilot program to allow the robot to act as a temporary replacement for Garcia who is missing daily classroom activities, and to allow her the class time she was missing.
"What we are seeing anecdotally so far is that the children feel like she [Garcia] is a part of them, and she has a friend that brings things to her in the classroom," Executive Director of Communications for SAISD Leslie Price told ABCNews.com. "And she has been taught how to work it all, and learning how to maneuver it. I think it is really amazing, all of these kinds of technology you see in school."
The four-foot robot is on loan to the school from VGo Communications, Inc., which developed the robot originally for medical settings. It is the first time the robot has been used in a classroom in South Texas, making SAISD one of about 30 in the country to use this technology.
The robot operates via internet access, and contains a web cam that displays the individual user's face on the screen. The student then uses his or her personal computer and an attached webcam to move the robot.
"You can see her face on the screen and she can ask a question, see her peers, her teacher, and the board. It's very interactive," Price said. "It's a world of difference for these children to be part of their peers again. She is very excited, and her friends were excited to see her."
This $6,000 robot has helped lift Garcia's spirits and has helped her excel in the classroom, her mother Isabel Garcia said.
"It keeps her from falling behind and when they introduced the robot to her, she was so motivated and was so excited," Isabel Garcia said. "She is smiling so much more and she doesn't want to fall behind. She was also worried people are going to forget her because she is never there, but now she thinks she is really popular because she is a robot."
Price said the school district is in the beginning stages of developing this program, working out several factors including internet capabilities, infrastructures of various school buildings, as well as a budget.
The robot has been introduced to one elementary school, but could go into secondary schools once the kinks have been worked out, Price said.
Until then, Garcia will continue to use the robot for the remainder of the school year.