Our Islands, Our Future

AJ Ramelb’s tenacity and technological innovation gave disabled students an independence they don’t often experience. “I really wanted my students to be able to paint their own pictures, and AJ made that possible,” said Hillary Watt, a special education teacher at King Kekaulike High School. Watt and an audience of 600-plus applauded Ramelb, a 2014 Kekaulike graduate, following his selection for this year’s Daniel K. Inouye Innovation Award from Maui Economic Development Board. Ramelb, now enrolled as a freshman at the University of Hawaii Maui College, was chosen for the award established to commemorate the late Sen. Inouye’s legacy. The honor, presented at the recent Ke Alahele Education Fund Dinner, recognizes an exceptional student-led project that applies science, technology, engineering and math solutions to community improvement.

MEDB gave Ramelb $3,000 for college and a pledge to assist him in applying for a U.S. patent for a special paintbrush grip design. King Kekaulike will also receive $7,000 for its STEMworks™ lab. There last school year, Ramelb studied and created the paintbrush grip design for students with severe and multiple disabilities. “In a STEMworks™ lab, you have so many resources at your disposal,” Ramelb said. “I’m really grateful for my teacher, Emily Haines, and for STEM because it really opens up your mind and allows you to think about what you can do for your community.”

Ramelb created two different styles of grips, accommodating both inward and outward wrist turns of students with disabilities. They mainly use the grips for art paintbrushes, but recently used it to hold mini-maracas for music. “These kids are used to having things done for them, but these grips have given them the opportunity to do something on their own, to express themselves through movement and through art,” Watt said. She said she was impressed by Ramelb’s dedication and attention to testing the grips and adjusting the design so it could fit her students’ needs. “He really went above and beyond. I really appreciated it and couldn’t be more proud,” Watt said.