Robot Puts Homebound Boy with Friends, Teachers in Class

By: David Norris Email
By: David Norris Email

BRENHAM, Texas CJ Cook is just like any other nine-year-old boy. He loves fishing, Nascar, playing the drums and, according to his mom, he has a huge crush on Taylor Swift.

From looking at him, you wouldn't guess there was anything wrong. At two pounds, two ounces, CJ was born ten weeks early. He has Immunodeficieny, also called immune deficiency. It's a state in which the immune system ability to fight infectious disease is compromised.

For the first year of his life, his mother, Lauren, lived with the fear that her only child might not make it through another night.

"You didn't know what was going to be thrown at you the next day or the next hour," said Lauren. "Quite a few times, it was touch and go with him."

CJ's condition has left him essentially home bound and unable to attend school.

That is, until now. Thanks to a remote-controlled robot on wheels, CJ went to school at Brenham Elementary for the first time Wednesday. The robot operates on wireless technology, and has video and audio capabilities. It's part of a program from Region 6 Education Center in Huntsville. The robot allows CJ to not only attend classes like other kids, but to interact with teachers and fellow students.

"And that's what's so cool about this is that he's going to be able to see his classmates, and talk to his classmates. Almost like he's there in person," said Lauren.

"My favorite thing is when everybody was cheering for me," said CJ. "It's like a football game, I guess you could say."

CJ's teacher, Kellie Fontenot, said when she heard about the program, she knew she had to make the call to Huntsville.

She spoke with Kip Robins with the Education Service Center.

"I talked to him a little bit. He was very excited and said CJ would be a perfect candidate for this program."

Robins said CJ's robot was the last of nine robots in the program. The robots cost around $5,000 each, and even though the center gets some of its money from the state, Robins said it's not enough to pay for the robots. The center relies on money it can raise and from sponsors.

CJ's grandfather, Travis, has been there from the beginning, and he said it was emotional for him to see CJ going to class.

"You know, we've been through a lot with him. So this is good for him. This is good for us," said Travis.

"It's more than just being in school," said Lauren. "It's him growing up and getting friends, and being a little nine-year-old boy."

CJ said he wants to name his robot Blue Deuce because of his birth weight and because it's the number of his favorite Nascar driver, Brad Keslowski.


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