Teacher coordinates ‘virtual field trip’ for student with severe allergies

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EVERGREEN PARK, Ill. -- When it comes to allergies and children today, the risks are a true reality for many families that can be  a matter of life and death.

For third grader Max Castillo, allergies can keep him out of the school.  But his teacher is trying to keep him as close to the classroom as possible - even when it may seem impossible.

Max has anaphylactic allergies to wheat and dander that have plagued him since birth and a severe gluten sensitivity that attacks when the 8-year-old is even exposed to it.

Last year, Max had a 7th birthday he would rather forget.

“He ended up being hospitalized for five days and missed his birthday,” said Ted Castillo, Max's father.

Recently Max’s class visited the Little Red School House Nature Center in Willow Springs. 48 students from Southeast School in Evergreen Park were set to learn about ecosystems, predators and prey, and  nature in all its glory. Everyone, except Max, was there.

But instead of missing out, School District #124 is bringing the field trip to Max.

They’re calling it the virtual field trip.

For hours, Max listened, looked and even participated in the outdoor classroom.

Max, his iPad and his limitless imagination put all the pieces together as he restlessly bounced from room to room in his home, learning about snakes, frogs and even rabbits.

While the signal was spotty at times, it was almost as good as being there for Max. His teacher, Mrs. Reed, was the engineer behind it all.   She says it's all about using the technology and being inclusive.

"He's  part of the class,” she said. “He might have different needs than other kids in the class, but lots of kids have different needs. I just make sure I provide for the needs that each child has."

In this day and age, you might think face timing didn't require much. But it did.  Pulling it off for Max meant getting permission from all parents whose children were on the field trip and finding a place that would allow it.  One field trip venue denied their request.  Also, setting up hot spots in an otherwise rural environment took a month  or more to orchestrate.

"For us it's not a small gesture, its huge!” said Alya Castillo, Max's mother.  “It's incredible that someone thought to do something for Max to make him feel included."