Like any other student at Greenleaf Elementary School in this East Texas town, a robot nicknamed Watt shows up punctually for class every day.
The difference between Watt and the other students is that it is controlled over the Internet by Cristian Beasley, a 12-year-old boy suffering from leukemia who has to stay home.
But the sixth-grader's disease doesn't isolate him from his schoolmates and teachers, with whom he shares classes every day.
The robot is known generically as a VGo, and through it the patient can see, hear, speak and move from one place to another no matter how far away it might be.
For Greenleaf's principal, Adriana Velasco, the robot not only helps out with the process of learning, it also serves as emotional therapy that strengthens the self-esteem of Cristian and of other patients who have limited mobility.
Children in these circumstances "get awfully depressed, but Cristian can at least talk to other students here and can take part in school activities, socially if not physically, and mentally he's very excited to be able to have this kind of communication," Velasco said.
Cristian named his robot for Houston Texans football star J.J. Watt.
The NFL standout went to visit Cristian at the school and signed the Texans cap the robot wears.
There are 34 VGo robots attending other schools in the United States, and unlike other systems such as videoconferences that are limited to static cameras, this robot helps the student "move around" and socialize.
Children have adapted to this new technology in a completely natural way, since they've grown up with 3D videogames, remote control devices and computers, so what they're seeing is not a robot but just another classmate.
To illustrate her point, Velasco recounted that a fire alarm went off recently and the kids ran to help the robot. EFE