silas-1I started working at Fair Haven in January of 2015. Soon after, I was told by the head of our IT department that I had to go meet Chris Dudick.

Dudick is one of our art teachers and he does great things with STEM and art integration. Dudick also works with special needs students in our adaptive digital arts programs in our district and at his community makerspace, Small Factory. Being cut from the same cloth, it should come as no surprise that we became fast friends.

One day, Dudick asked me to take a look at this software he had made called SiLAS. Dudick explained how he had been hand-drawing animations based on scripts his special needs students had created together. While he found the activity to be great for developing students’ social skills, the animation process was long and tedious. SiLAS was the solution.

SiLAS stands for Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software. With SiLAS, students use video game controllers and headsets to control their Avatar’s emotions and voice. Students then act out or practice a social scene like finding someone to sit with at lunch, making eye contact when they speak, or talking to someone on the playground. With SiLAS the act of animating students’ scripts went from weeks to seconds and improved their social skills development at the same time. Here’s more about how SiLAS works:

When I got to Fair Haven, Dudick had decided he wanted to bring SiLAS to market. I began meeting with Chris regularly to discuss changes we could make to the software to improve the user experience and ways we could take SiLAS to the next level. A few months later, word had gotten out about SiLAS in our area, so we started allowing school districts to demo the SiLAS software. They loved it. As the buzz picked up, Dudick asked me to officially join the SiLAS team as the Chief Innovation Officer.

We are weeks away from coming to market. We are in nearly fifty school districts now and the feedback has been amazing. Over the summer, we spoke at TEDx about the software and Princeton and Kean studied the impact SiLAS has on a student’s social/emotional learning. The preliminary results are fantastic.

Most importantly, I have used and watched others use SiLAS to make a positive impact on students’ social skills and emotional well being.

I know SiLAS is going to do a lot of good for a lot of kids. I couldn’t be more excited.