AYA students publish ‘Penny on Wheels’ 
Photos: Courtesy Terri Rohan 
Akiba Yavneh Academy students, and “Penny on Wheels” creators , from left, back row: Tamar Gurman, Sarah Schussler, Lilly Yalovsky, Emma Stein, Ava Prengler and Avigail Salzman; front row: Shira Sabo, Nata Gurman and Leora Baynash.   

Students combine ingenuity, chesed to help dog’s mobility

By Deb Silverthorn

Akiba Yavneh Academy students are adept at putting their learning into practice. 

Recently, AYA’s Engineering Club students designed a wheelchair for a staff member’s infirm dog, and the Jewish Medical Action and Awareness Club wrote and illustrated “Penny on Wheels.” Once again, the students’ desire to help — and educate — have come together.

AYA junior, Shira Sabo, lead what began as a project of the school’s Engineering Club.   “Penelope, ‘Penny,’ (a boxer) had a rare disease and we wanted to help her be able to walk — then, we figured we should share the story.”

“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished and it’s very exciting to see all of our ideas come together,” said Sabo.

As co-president of AYA’s JMAAC chapter, and a member of the Engineering Club, Sabo coordinated that the clubs come together to publish a fictional story based on their experiences. 

“We got the idea from AYA graduates, Noa Ksabi, Yael Schuller and Devorah Zhrebker who years ago wrote two children’s books, ‘Lungs of Gold’ and ‘Bonnie the Bunny,’ with illustrations by Orly Cohen, Hana Michaeli and Michal Reva.”

Terri Rohan and her late pup “Penny.”

“We thought about the wheelchair we’d created for Penny and figured it was a good story and might inspire young children to care for animals and maybe even their career paths as inventors, veterinarians, whatever they get out of it,” Sabo said.

Joining her in writing “Penny on Wheels,” were Leora Baynash, Nata Gurman, Tamar Gurman, Kayla Kosfiszer, Ava Prengler, Sarah Schussler, Emma Stein and Lilly Yalovsky; Maggie Morenoff and Avigail Saltzman illustrated.  Classmate Tali Gubin, with her own business, Tali’s Pastry House, donated the proceeds of a bake sale to help raise funds for the book’s publication.   

“We decided to base the dog on Penny and write about degenerative myelopathy, a rare canine disease, which Penny suffered from,” said Sabo.  “We wanted it to be more than about a boy and his dog in a wheelchair but to really teach about the disease and explain the process of inventing his wheelchair.  The book explains the entire engineering process that we went through, in creating the wheelchair, including the creation of a sketch of what the boy thinks the wheelchair should look like.”

“Penny on Wheels” teaches the concept of brainstorming.  Penny’s owner, Simon, is a science teacher, and was inspired by the experiences with his childhood dog.  The book explains how he looked for materials he could recycle from home,  asked for help from his father with what could have been dangerous tasks and the testing required for the final project. 

The book won fourth place in Texas’ 2023 district Technology Student Association competition. It includes a list of questions to inspire conversations. 

“We hope our book, and the real-life story of Penny, inspires critical thinking for young readers,” said Sabo, “and for them to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

AYA administration paid for publishing 12 copies of the book, with proceeds of those going toward a second run. 

Akiba Yavneh Academy students, from left, Rivka Guttman and Mordechai Weiss, are part of the team that created a wheelchair for Terri Rohan’s dog Penny, and which has now published “Penny on Wheels.”

“There were so many hands that came together to make these projects, both the wheelchair and the book, successes,” said Donna Hutcheson, AYA high school principal.  “These kids are growing into — they already are the next generation of leaders.

Hutcheson said that she’s not surprised at the depth of the students’ passion toward the project.

“Our students show and live leadership.  From the engineering to the writing, from deciding how to share the proceeds, they always go a step beyond. We couldn’t be prouder.”

After the first two runs, all proceeds of the book are donated to a longtime AYA employee, now retired but remembered by two generations of students.  “We want to preserve the person’s privacy, but it is someone who has cared so much about Akiba Yavneh and all of its students,” said Sabo.  “Because the book was created by AYA students it seems natural that we’d give our proceeds to someone close to the school.”

“Penny” was the cherished dog of Terri and Richard Rohan, parents of AYA alumni and now grandparents of current students. They are grateful for the care and interest the students shared for Penny.  Having a book about their story available for the public, keeps their precious pet close.

“‘Penny was a wonderful dog who, with this horrific disease, lost the ability to use her back legs,” said  Terri Rohan, noting her pet passed away in 2022.  “The only thing she loved more than food was people and the Akiba Yavneh kids were so good to her. 

“Everything the kids have put into helping Penny, from the beginning and the wheelchair through this book, is very special.  They really did all they could to help extend her life and now provide very meaningful learning” she continued.  “Through all of their efforts Penny lives on.” 

To purchase a copy of “Penny on Wheels,” or donate to the project, email ssabo1@akibayavneh.org.

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