Carly Taylor Addison knew from a young age that she wanted to teach music.
“There was never really a question of what I wanted to do,” said Addison. “I had really excellent music teachers from kindergarten all the way through college. I saw firsthand what they were doing and wanted to do it when I got older.”
Addison grew up in the Irving, Texas, School District. After graduating from the University with a degree in music education in 2016, she returned to her hometown to teach orchestra at Austin Middle School.
With more than 240 students in the orchestra program, Carly spends her day alternating between beginner classes and advanced seventh and eighth graders. Each spring, the middle school holds an orchestra tryout night — an evening designed to help elementary students decide if they want to be in orchestra or another elective such as band or choir.
Addison said it was at an orchestra night in spring 2019 when she met Kayla, a fifth grader at the time, who had been born without her left forearm and hand.
“Kayla showed up for orchestra tryout night, and she went around to all the instruments and came back to me and told me she wanted to be in orchestra,” said Addison.
Kayla wasn’t phased by the challenge ahead, so Addison immediately set out to make Kayla’s dream of playing the cello a reality.
“I think one of the great things about having music education in public schools is that it’s accessible for everyone,” said Addison. “No matter what challenges or obstacles are in front of a student, it’s our job to provide them with the same education anyone would get. When Kayla showed up and said she wanted to be in the orchestra, I felt it was my responsibility to make that happen for her.”
After doing a mass internet search, Addison came across a Forbes article about a 12-year-old boy who had cerebral palsy who was missing the lower half of his left arm. The article revealed that a doctor named Jennifer Mankoff had designed the blueprints used to make the boy a 3D prosthetic that enabled him to play the cello.
Addison called the number listed on the website and anticipated leaving a voicemail, but much to her surprise Dr. Mankoff answered
the phone. After speaking with her and learning her designs were public domain, Addison contacted her alma mater, Nimitz High School, who had recently acquired two 3D printers.
Over the summer, Addison and a teacher at Nimitz High School spent two months discussing and planning the steps involved in making Kayla’s prosthetic. When the students came back to school in August, a team of seniors continued modifying the design and printed the final product within the first four weeks of the semester.
Despite being four weeks behind her class, Addison said Kayla took to the instrument quickly.
“When she put the bow to the string for the first time she played it like there was no wait time. She is actually currently ahead of the rest of the kids in her class.”
Kayla’s current prosthetic functions like one solid piece that extends from where her arm ends to the bow. However, the team of seniors is working on a second design that has a wrist function, similar to a ball and socket joint, which will give Kayla more range of motion while playing.
Addison hopes this experience will inspire others to go after their dreams.
“Sometimes the path to getting what you want is a little difficult and it may be challenging, but there are always people along the way who are willing to help you.”
Addison says the prosthetic works incredibly well, but it was Kayla’s determination that made all the difference.
“When Kayla advocated for herself, it was like doors continued to open up. This is a solution that is accessible for a lot of people. A 3D print for her costs less than $20, but I think people see anything that’s like a medical solution as a lot of red tape, a lot of difficulty, and a lot of expenses.”
Three years into teaching, Addison considers herself lucky.
“The best thing about this job is seeing the confidence that is instilled in these students as they learn to play music. It gives them a safe place to be, provides them with a way to achieve, and gives them something to be proud of. It truly is the most fulfilling career ever.”
Addison says Nimitz High School has already printed prosthetics for others who have reached out. If this could help you or someone you know, please email email@example.com.
— Katie Clement