BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When you're a kid, it's tough to be different. Eighth graders at Kenilworth Science and Technology School are helping one of their schoolmates with robots.
A robot, in and of itself is enough to excite Jakyra Brown. The Kenilworth 6th grader wants to be an engineer when she grows up. That's a blessing for her mom, Jonique. She says that until a few years ago, Jakyra did not like school.
"It's been really, really rough on her," said Jonique. "She dealt with a lot of bullying, to where she didn't want to go to school."
Jakyra is different from the other 6th graders in her class. She was born without a right hand, but she has not let that slow her down. "I like playing basketball," Jakyra beamed. "I taught myself how to play. At P.E. and stuff, I play by myself. I don't like playing with the other kids sometimes."
Jonique looked into getting a prosthetic hand for Jakyra, but that would cost more than $10,000. Jakyra's situation caught the attention of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math coordinator, Elkhan Akhundov. "We already had a 3D printer. I thought, 'Why not give it a try?'"
Akhundov found a special program on the internet, and with the help of his robotics club, set out to give Jakyra a hand -- literally.
"When I first heard about this," said club member, Darius Manogin. "I was excited. Not only was I learning how to do this, but I was going to help somebody."
With Akhundov's help, the kids took precise measurements of Jakyra's left hand and arm, as well as her right. Then, they plugged the measurements into the program and let the 3D printer go to work.
"We printed piece-by-piece," said Manogin. "And then we assembled it together."
For just $56, they built Jakyra a new hand. The aparatus attaches just above Jakyra's elbow. Fishing line runs down the prosthetic arm, over the elbow joint, and into articulated fingers. In theory, when Jakyra bends her arm, the fishing line curls the fingers into a fist. After about a week of tinkering, the hand was ready for Jakyra to try.
With Jonique and the whole robotics club looking on, Manogin helps Jakyra fasten her new hand into place, and with a bend of her elbow, the finger joints creak into a fist. Jakyra's face lights up with excitement.
But the real test is lifting something with it. Akhundov places a coffee mug on the table. Jakyra tentatively extends the fingers into the mug handle. She braces the wrist on the table and leans over to bend the elbow. The fingers do their work, and the mug wobbles up to Jakyra's face.
It was a shaky first attempt, but with practice, Jakyra is sure she'll get better at it. "I'm just so excited," Jonique said, holding back tears. "I'm happy because I'm finally seeing that smile on her face that I always wanted to see."
Now, Jakyra has a grip on a new future thanks to a teacher and some pretty amazing schoolmates. "My belief," said Akhundov. "Is these kids have all the skills they need. They just need motivation. These kinds of things spark that motivation."
The kids are so motivated, in fact, that they hope to help more people with special needs in the capital area.