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Jordan Valley, Jordan High Students Bond With “Eagle Eyes” Technology

Nov 06, 2015 10:42AM ● Published by Julie Slama

By Julie Slama

Sandy - For years, Jordan Valley teacher Kat Winch would try teaching her students who couldn’t verbally communicate or wouldn’t be able to move much in a wheelchair, and wondered if she was getting through to them.

“The kids couldn’t tell me how they understood, and I know they were quite intelligent,” Winch said.

So when The Opportunity Foundation of America introduced “Eagle Eyes” technology to Jordan Valley, a whole new world opened up to those students.

The device is a box about the size of a DVD case that is plugged into a computer. Electrodes are placed above and below, as well as on the sides of, the student’s eyes. They then generate a response when their eyes move up, down, left or right, making the cursor on the computer screen move accordingly, said executive director and founder Debbie Inkley. 

One of the first things students try is painting to understand how their eye movement is connected to what is happening on the screen. Then, students use Eagle Eyes through games, such as chasing and shooting at space aliens, which actually is a learning tool to help them master cause and effect, Inkley said. In time, students may be able to advance to programs that help them communicate better.

The technology was developed at Boston College in 1994 and has undergone several advances. The Opportunity Foundation of America distributes the systems worldwide.

Winch, who has a son who uses Eagle Eyes, knows it helps students and is amazed at what her students now are able to accomplish.

“Eagle Eyes shows how smart they are and how they can show cause and effect, demonstrate how things are connected and how they can make choices when they understand something,” Winch said. 

However, it isn’t just Jordan Valley teachers helping these students. Eleven Jordan High students who are part of the Peer Leadership Team have volunteered their time to help Jordan Valley students with Eagle Eyes and another similar program, called “Camera Mouse,” which allows students with the ability of some movement to move their heads to control the mouse. It’s the second year Jordan students have been involved.

“Part of the magic is with these high school students. Jordan Valley students are gaining more than extra helpers: they’re realizing these peers can be their friends, and most of those students don’t have many friends. And Jordan high schoolers are learning to appreciate these students, realizing they are very bright, but just locked up in their bodies,” Inkley said.

Earlier this school year, Jordan High students learned about the students and programs by placing the electrodes on their own classmates and testing the programs themselves.

“I’m a little nervous about it because I have a neighbor who is autistic and I don’t want to trigger something that isn’t enjoyable for these students,” senior Syd Hyer said. “But at the same time, I’m excited and interested in learning how these kids with disabilities do things differently as those kids with abilities. I think it will be a cool opportunity to learn how I can help.”

Her classmate, senior Olivia Telford, said that she jumped at the opportunity to help.

“It’s a really cool way for them to communicate and for me to be a part of how they learn,” she said. “I haven’t had that much of a chance to hang out with students with disabilities, but I’m friends with those who did it last year and they told me it is the greatest opportunity.”

In addition to helping with Eagle Eyes and Camera Mouse, Inkley said Jordan High students will support Jordan Valley students with holiday parties and already have planned an ice skating event together for this winter.

Jordan Valley achievement coach Clayton Reid said that through these activities, often high school students will pair up with Jordan Valley students, helping them at home with the Eagle Eyes program or just hanging out.

“They fall in love with the students, so after high school, they’ll continue to work with them at their houses or hang out and come back to attend social activities here at our school. It opens up a whole new world for both students,” he said.      

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