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As Riverhead Charter School expands STEM program, students tour PBMC to learn about technology in health care

As the Riverhead Charter School pushes to expand its STEM program, 20 students had the opportunity to use the DaVinci robotic system at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead last Thursday.

The students were able to try the robotic surgical system on a tour of the hospital’s surgical unit, led by Dr. Agostino Cervone. The school’s board president, Aimee Lomonaco, who is also a registered nurse at PBMC, used her connections at the hospital to set up the tour.

“We want to get our high school kids who are into robotics and STEM this opportunity to understand how technology advances in health care and what their future opportunities could look like,” Ms. Lomonaco said.

Dr. Cervone led the ninth-and 10th-grade students through a series of competitive games using plastic fish and Starburst candies, which taught the students how to use the state-of-the-art surgical system that provides safer surgeries with less recovery time for patients.

“The robot has enabled a lot of surgeons to do things minimally invasive, mostly because of the visualization, the high definition, the angulation of the instruments,” Dr. Cervone said. “I think surgeons then become comfortable doing surgery through smaller incisions and ultimately the patients recover a lot faster.”

The robot the students used is the second DaVinci robot at the hospital, according to PBMC executive director Amy Loeb. The first one was purchased in 2012.

“What this second robot symbolizes for us is not only staying at the forefront with the latest and greatest technology, but it’s also a demonstration of our growth in terms of the services we provide,” she said.

Along with Ms. Lomonaco, students were also accompanied by charter school principal Dr. Patrick McKinney and coding and robotics teacher Nagendra Singh.

Mr. Singh hoped that through this experience, students were able to see more opportunities available to them in the STEM field.

“It’s just another way of looking at the world,” he said. “We never think of robotics and medicine at the same time but there’s probably thousands of jobs related to just this one piece of technology.”

Ms. Loeb hoped this opportunity would inspire the students’ interest in the health care field in the future.

“To be able to connect them with the latest technology here, for them to be able to touch and feel it and be connected to it is great,” Ms. Loeb said. “We know that this generation of students [are] very interested in technology and it’s amazing to me to watch them sit down at the console and how natural it is.”

Charter school Superintendent Raymond Ankrum said opportunities like the one students experienced should be available for all students.

“We offer our students, our high school, the unique opportunity to be exposed to these types of things because we’re getting them ready to be division one academics,” Mr. Ankrum said.