Dannica Chiverrell loves school. She loves hanging out with her friends. She even enjoys being present in the classroom. Prior to this year, however, there was just one glitch which made much of this impossible for the Sierra View Elementary school sixth grader.
Dannica lives with Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis (CRMO), a rare condition which affects one in one million. It’s an autoimmune disease which has symptoms similar to osteomyelitis. The bones have lesions, inflammation and pain. Symptoms which are so painful that it’s not uncommon for the 11-year-old to spend days in bed from stiffness of the bones and excruciating pain.
“It took about a year and a half and 13 doctors, two biopsies and an open surgery to figure it out,” Nikki Chiverrell, Dannica’s mother shared. “It’s a lifelong incurable disease.”
Her daughter first began displaying symptoms when she was eight years old. According to Nikki, it started with a limp, which led to noticeable growth of her mandible and then complaints of her hip hurting.
“She said, I feel like something’s chewing through my bone,” the mother stated. A description she shared was jarring, coming from an 8-year-old child.
Due to this condition just as many school days were spent at home than in the classroom, with her teachers bringing instruction to her. During the fall of the 2017-18 school year, the Sierra View sixth grader required spinal surgery, as a result of this disease.
“She was literally walking around for we don’t know how long with a broken back,” mom Nikki said.
It was at this time that Dannica’s sixth grade teacher, Amanda Hensley, proposed an idea that would prove to be revolutionary for the youngster.
“I threw out this crazy idea,” Amanda said. “We were getting really worried about her emotional well-being. She was really feeling isolated and home a lot and we know she was in pain.”
Amanda had read of a robot, by Double Robotics, which allows students to virtually attend class. A robot which would allow Dannica to connect with her peers, as well as be present in real time for the academics.
The sixth grade teacher met with OJUSD Superintendent Marc Malone and the decision was made to pilot the idea for the homebound student. In early December Dannica went ‘live’ from bed and was virtually present with her Sierra View classmates.
“She was on it instantly,” Amanda said, once the robot was on campus, noting that it can be operated from a laptop, computer or even an app. “It’s surprisingly easy.”
It was an easy transition for all to the virtual learning.
“They’re so used to technology, that it’s cool for a second and they move on in their lives,” the teacher said of the classmates’ reaction to “Robot Dannica,” essentially an iPad on wheels.
“It’s a lot easier to be there and also interact with the kids,” Dannica said of the virtual attendance.
All three also noted the flexibility offered to the student in terms of managing her ‘bad days’ and keeping up with class work. The days that the condition gets the best of her physically, the student could check in with her teacher and learn which lessons to virtually sign in for so as not to get behind.
Both a GATE and Honor Roll student, maintaining her studies, Nikki shared was never a struggle for her daughter. It’s the social interaction she gained through the robot which proved to be invaluable.
“For me it’s so multifaceted, because not only was she able to maintain her grades and not get left behind,” her mother said. “It helped her maintain her confidence. The emotional aspect of it is indescribable. For her to be able to have that little face on the screen and to be able to fee like she’s still a part and she’s not missing anything.”
Academically, socially, everything received a “Grade A” from those involved.
“It allowed her to excel and have something to look forward to,” Nikki continued, becoming visibly emotional. “So even on the days that she was in pain, it was a healthy distraction for her. This school has truly been incredible. As a mom … for me … it means the world.”
As Dannica looks ahead to the fall and becoming a Ram at Oakdale Junior High, she is both optimistic and excited for the next chapter. As her health has improved, both she and mom hope that she’ll not face challenges which require long home stays, as she’s had the past few years.
Taking a proactive approach, Amanda has been in contact with OJHS administration on the benefits of the robot, which is the property of Sierra View School. She noted that if need should arise for the campus to purchase a robot, she is more than ready to help in any way possible.
“This just gives her another option,” Amanda said of the robot, “in a way that makes such a huge impact on a kid. That’s why we do this. That’s what it’s about.”