St. Mother Teresa students using virtual reality to ‘bring joy’ to retirement community

students and seniors using VR googles

By Jillian Follert

Clarington This Week


If you’ve ever wanted to see the Northern Lights, go deep sea diving or take a spin through the human body, the kids in Heather Michel’s Grade 6 class can arrange it.

The students from St. Mother Teresa Catholic Elementary School in Clarington have spent months studying virtual reality technology — and now they’re using it to brighten the lives of people in the community

“You can use it to help a lot of people in different ways, like if people are sick or isolated, it can bring joy to them,” explains Jordis Castrilli, 11.

This month, the class brought a virtual reality experience to seniors at Traditions of Durham Retirement Residence.

“People can travel to different places that they’ve never been to and always wanted to go,” says student Ainsley Sandison.

After polling the residents on what they wanted to see, the class arranged virtual outings to Canadian heritage sites, the Northern Lights and museums featuring dinosaur skeletons.

The class also visited Grandview Children’s Centre and will be teaching staff from Nurse Next Door — an organization that provides home care to seniors — how to use virtual reality technology with their clients.

Michel says an interest in virtual reality was sparked last year, when her class scored some gear through the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Challenge, which awarded grants to 150 schools.

The Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board has also purchased a set of 30 virtual reality goggles, which is available for classes to borrow.

Michel says this year’s class was intrigued by the technology and began in-depth research on how to best use it and how it can benefit the community.

“I wanted to follow their lead,” Michel says, explaining how she embraced the idea and is using virtual reality to teach many areas of the curriculum. “This is a more natural way to learn, when they are really interested in something. And, they come away with so many usable skills for their future.”

In class, the students have taken virtual reality exclusions everywhere from Egypt to the Mayan Ruins.

Jocelyn Campbell, 11, says her favourite was a trip to outer space, where “the stars and planets looked really cool.”

Students in the class are also designing their own virtual reality safety gear and are working on prototypes to share with industry experts.

Their inventions include a harness that tethers the user, so they can move without bumping into things; a vest with a sensor that beeps if someone gets close to the wearer; and a swivel bean bag chair that allows for a comfortable 360-degree experience while sitting down.