If you stopped by Home Depot on Route 2 in Warwick on Friday morning, you may have seen a group of students from Cranston High School West working on a very special project for a special classmate.
Corinna Calise was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at 10 months old and given only a few years to live. She is now a freshman at Cranston West preparing to attend her first formal dance, the school’s Winter Ball on Jan. 11.
Calise, who will turn 15 in February, has used a power wheelchair since she was 3 years old. In an effort to help make her experience at Winter Ball even more memorable, her Foundations for Physics teacher, Joel Glock, had an idea for a very unique class project.
“I asked them to figure out a way to allow Corinna to dance with a partner at our Winter Ball,” said Glock, explaining that the project began in October.
Glock said that his students, all of whom are freshmen, jumped right into the project, researching ways that people in wheelchairs dance and looking for means to use what they had learned in their physics class to design something to help Calise dance with a partner.
Working periodically over the past two months on the project, Glock’s students came up with the plan to attach a wooden board with a seat to the front of Calise’s chair. Her dance partner would sit on the seat, and when Calise moves her chair, her partner would move with her.
After creating a design plan and a parts list, Glock went to Home Depot to purchase the items and see if they would donate any of the supplies. It was then that he met one of the store’s managers, Eric Oh. They got talking about the project, and Oh said the store would help in a big way.
“They would donate everything and then build it,” said Glock.
Oh had two of his employees who are normally responsible for building the store’s displays, Henry Orzechowski and Larry Cannone, take on the task of making the students’ design a reality.
“Once we started talking, it sounded like something that was right up our alley,” said Oh, explaining that one of the mantras within the Home Depot organization is to help the community with these types of projects. “It was a worthwhile project that we could help out with.”
Not only did they help out, but according to Glock, they took his students’ idea of a small square board with a seat and transformed it to a full sleigh that will attach to the front of Calise’s chair for her partner to sit in.
“The people here at Home Depot have been amazing. They’ve done everything except the decorating,” said Glock.
The job of decorating the sleigh fell to Glock’s students, who were at the Home Depot location last Friday to design, paint and decorate the wooden sleigh to match the theme of their dance, Fire and Ice.
Glock recruited two senior art students to help with the designing of the sleigh.
“It’s a big community effort,” said Glock.
The students were painting the sleigh with flames and ice designs, as well as incorporating some artistic depictions of physics concepts involving the interaction between hot and cold (a way to incorporate science into the project).
Once the paint dried, the students planned to decorate the sleigh with battery-powered snowflake lights, candy canes, fake snow, and red and blue glitter decorations to match the Fire and Ice theme.
Home Depot also donated all of the paint and decorations. Once the decorating was complete, Orzechowski would be tasked with finding the best way to attach the sleigh to Calise’s chair.
“I think it will really help make the dance nice for her,” said Cannone, who was monitoring the work being done by the students.
As her classmates worked on her special sleigh, Calise watched with a big smile on her face.
“It’s really cool,” said Calise. “I’m so excited they did it.” Calise also said she is very excited to attend the dance and pick up her dress over the winter break.
Calise’s father, Michael, was also at the Home Depot watching the students complete the project for his daughter.
“It was just incredible to see,” he said, adding that it shows what an exceptional teacher Glock is, as well as how great the students are.
“To see the kids come together and their creativity, is a wonderful thing,” said Michael. “The ultimate experience is for her to enjoy the dance.”
While Glock said he will assign special, creative projects from time to time, this is the first time the project has been to benefit one particular student. But because of the special relationship between Calise and her classmates, Glock found it to be fitting. “A lot of them have been going to school together since elementary school, so they are very protective of her,” said Glock.
In addition to being a special project for a classmate, Glock explained that working on designs for the sleigh meets the new Next Generation Science Standards that have been implemented at Cranston West. The standards include a technology and engineering component, and Glock says this project matches up with that nicely.
But the true purpose of this project is to ensure that Calise has a memorable night at the Winter Ball, dancing the night away with her many dance partners.