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Human Growth and Development Students Testing Their Skills with Smart Baby Technology

                 Cleburne High School sophomores and juniors enrolled in Human Growth and Development are in the process of receiving seven-pound homework assignments.

                Over the coming weeks, students will be experiencing a sampling of the responsibilities of parenthood as Baby Infant Simulators are placed in their care from the end of the day on Friday until they report to class on Monday. The “smart baby” technology within each electronic infant simulator is programmed to cry to be fed, burped, rocked and have its diaper changed. The “babies” include sensors in the neck that can detect if the head is not supported properly, prompting a unique cry.

“We send home parent permission forms and each student signs a contract in which they agree to care for the baby simulator like a real baby,” Human Services teacher Cynthia Rocha said. “I tell every student this is ‘your’ baby. I have some students who are protective to the point they won’t let anyone else hold it.”

                The level of care provided over the weekend is documented—by the baby simulator.

“The baby grades the student,” Rocha said. “When each baby is returned, I check indicators that show missed cries, how much it cried and any mistreatment or abuse including shaking or the head falling back.”

                 Assignments like this have been in use for years—beginning with “flour babies” in which students were issued five-pound sacks of flour and tasked with keeping a log indicating changing times, feeding times, etc. While technology has brought the exercise into the 21st century, the goal remains the same.  

“The whole purpose is to teach students about the responsibility of caring for an infant,” Rocha said. “They’ve been given the information and have practiced in class with the simulators. My hopes are that through this experience, our students will not only take away a life-long lesson, but also share what they have learned with others. I have had students tell me they had to show their parents or relatives the proper way to strap a baby into the car seat.”

Sophomore Bri Threlkeld is among the first to engage in the infant care assignment. She has planned on taking this Career and Technical Education course since she was in middle school.

                “When I toured the high school in eighth grade and saw what they did in this class, I really wanted to take it,” she said. “I’m the youngest in my family, so I have no experience taking care of a sibling. I was nervous I wouldn’t hear the baby cry when I was asleep, or if I could do the right thing. The first night went okay, but the second night I only slept five hours. On Sunday night, the baby woke up every hour—it was like it knew I had to go to school the next day.”

                Austin Smith, who thinks the class will help her prepare for a career as a kindergarten teacher admits to being a little nervous about the assignment.

                “I have a little brother and watched him when he was little,” she said. “I also have a nephew who was just born a month ago and have watched him. I know I’ll make a good grade, but I’m still a little nervous. If it starts crying and I can’t make it stop, I’ll stress. I probably won’t get as much sleep. You can’t pick the time when it will start crying—or for how long.”

 The infant care exercise is one component within the Human Growth and Development curriculum at CHS, which is included in the Human Services pathway of study. Students are engaged in human development across the lifespan, starting with infants and toddlers. Child abuse and neglect are included in the areas of study.

“We just went through Red Ribbon Week and my students learned about prenatal alcohol exposure and fetal alcohol syndrome,” Rocha said. “I had them write essays about the importance of raising awareness in high school students about the dangers of drug and alcohol use on an unborn baby. It’s a lesson that has great impact.”

“Many of my students are also enrolled in the health science program and are wanting to learn about infant and child development and infant care, as they are planning careers as pediatric nurses, pediatricians or in the childcare industry,” Rocha said.

Destiny Carrizales is among the students interested in caring for newborns requiring critical care.

“I want to be a neonatal nurse,” she said. “I just like taking care of babies—and I think I’m good at it. I’m very excited to take a baby home. I think everyone should take this class, regardless of what they are planning as a career, because this prepares you about being a parent.”