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Starkweather Elementary Student Is Inspired To Help Others

Eli and Will Armbruster watch as Peter Lim tries out wearable cane with sensors. Teacher Megan Loper helps Peter Lim try out his wearable sensor cane through the hallways of Starkweather Elementary School while Eli Armbruster (red shirt) and his brother Will observe.

One never knows when inspiration will strike. For Eli Armbruster, a fifth-grader at Starkweather Elementary School, it was a routine visit to the eye doctor last year that led the youngster to design and create a device to help meet the needs of a student in the school's Multiple Disabilities Support (MDS) classroom.

Following his doctor's visit, Eli was sitting in his room, working with his Lego Mindstorm Ev3 robotics set. His eyes were dilated, making it difficult for him to focus on what he was doing.

"I thought, it must be frustrating to not be able to see," said Eli.

It was at that moment that Eli set out to build something that would help him to see with his eyes closed. He created a device to wear on his wrist that used sensors and a motor that would pulse when he came into close contact with an object.

"Since he was really little, he's been interested in science, especially computers," said David Armbruster, Eli's father. “We bought him a computer after first grade, and he has been teaching himself all sorts of programming ever since."

With the encouragement of his then fourth-grade teacher, Tony Ambrosino, Eli showed the device to Starkweather MDS teacher Megan Loper to see if his invention could help any of her students.

Mrs. Loper had a student in mind - Peter Lim.

Peter is visually impaired, and while Eli's device could help him in that regard, due to Peter's mobility issues, the tool was ineffective. Like any good inventor, Eli went back to the drawing board.

“It’s always been something I do,” said Eli. “When I see a problem, I try to solve it.”

Eli, along with the help of his father David and younger brother Will, used PVC pipes to construct a wearable cane outfitted with warning sensors. Eli and his parents took the device back to Peter's classroom to give it a test run.

Mrs. Loper and Mr. Armbruster helped secure the device onto Peter, and with some assistance from Loper, he made his way down the hallway. A sustained beep sounded as Peter approached the wall.

"Do you hear that, Peter? That means we're at the wall. You need to turn yourself around," encouraged Loper.

"I'm really curious for Peter to keep trying this," Loper told Eli, as the two discussed ways he could make the device better.

"I think I need to make it slide better, and make it less clunky," noted Eli.

Loper says Eli’s creativity is inspirational and refreshing.

“The fact that Eli is a fifth-grader in our community who has volunteered his time and skills for the chance to help one person speaks volumes about who he is and what he is capable of in the future. Mobility is something many people often take for granted.  Many people can get up and move safely from place to place. With Eli’s invention, he is giving Peter the chance to have the freedom to move and explore.  I look forward to seeing what else Eli can do and my hope would be that Eli’s story will motivate others to share their gifts as well!”

To help Eli improve his invention, Mr. Ambrosino applied for and received a mini-grant from the West Chester Area Education Foundation (WCAEF.)

"What Eli is doing is the true embodiment of the missions of both the West Chester Area School District and the West Chester Area Education Foundation. Through this grant, we will be facilitating Eli's journey through the scientific process of invention, while creating a tool that can help a fellow student achieve their personal best," said Ambrosino. "With help from this grant, Eli will be able to dive even deeper into his creative ingenuity and create something that has the potential to improve Peter's life and the lives of others."

Eli will work closely throughout the year with Ambrosino and Loper to continue to test his device and make the necessary adjustments to help Peter gain more confidence as he uses it, with the hopes of creating additional devices for more students.

Each year the WCAEF awards mini-grants to teachers in the WCASD to support creative, real-world experiences for students.

The WCAEF is an independent, non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization created in 2010 to attract private resources exclusively for the benefit of students and staff in the WCASD. For more information or to donate to the foundation, visit