Published as Play Room in the December 2019 magazine

Kid to Know: The AI Master versus Cancer

Watch out, pancreatic cancer. 14-year-old Rishab Jain is coming for you. The ninth grader at Westview High School in Portland recently took home a technology award at the Broadcom MASTERS 2019, a program of the Society for Science & the Public. (It’s the nation’s premier STEM competition for middle-school students.) Rishab designed an artificial intelligence tool that works in conjunction with the results of gene sequencing to help diagnose patients who have pancreatic cancer. Rishab calls it The Pancreas Detective. 

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Rishab, who has family friends who have died from cancer, started thinking about what he could do to address the disease. “While visiting a laboratory in Boston, I learned about pancreatic cancer DNA sequencing,” says Rishab. “I questioned if I could use my knowledge in programming and artificial intelligence to help tackle the pressing problem.”

Rishab won $2,500 to use for a STEM summer camp and is looking into camps focused on artificial intelligence. And he plans to keep his sights on cancer. “I want to pursue a career in medicine. Having the opportunity to make an immediate difference in the lives of people is something that is important to me,” he says. “Hopefully, I can become a surgeon who can treat and cure pancreatic cancer.” — Denise Castañon

Top 5: Holiday Craft Fairs

Support our city’s crew of talented makers this holiday season at a local craft fair.

1. The Big Kahuna of holiday markets, Crafty Wonderland Holiday Art + Craft Market features more than 250 crafters selling everything from small-batch tea blends to handmade stuffies to upcycled journals. December 14-15. Oregon Convention Center. Craftywonderland.com.  

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2. Baerlic’s WoodWorker Holiday Market is a show that might change the minds of dads who have little patience for craft fairs. It celebrates all things made of or inspired by wood, like furniture and housewares, but the best part is that it’s held in a brewery, and Tastebud wood-fired pizza will be slinging slices. December 7. Baerlic Brewing Co. and Taproom. Woodworkermarketpdx.com.  

3. More than 70 professional artisans will bring their jewelry, ceramics and fine arts to the Da Vinci Arts Fair. Proceeds benefit the art-loving students at Da Vinci Middle School. December 7. 2508 NE Everett St. Facebook.com/davinciartsfair.

4. Got Star Wars, comic-book or die-hard Harry Potter fans in your house? Head to Geek the Halls for awesomely nerdy gifts by local makers. December 14-15. DoubleTree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah St. Facebook.com/GeektheHallsPDX.   

5. And finally check out the adorable kid-made crafts at Scott Elementary School’s Mercado de Artesanías/Maker Fair. This bilingual bazaar won an award for the best Portland PTA event and features decorations, crafts, food and more. December 14. 10 am-1 pm. Scott School, 6700 NE Prescott St. — D.C.

Gear Guide: Toys that Travel

Tis the season for family tripping, and whether you’re getting there by car, plane or Amtrak train, you’re gonna need backup. These travel toys are compact, cleanish, and entertaining enough to engage kids for a good stretch of your journey. Happy adventuring!

Sweeten the prospect of a long trip for your 2-year-old with Peaceable Kingdom’s Topper Takes a Trip. In this carry-along game, which fits into an adorable suitcase, kids pick a destination (like Grandma’s house or the mountains), select and match the items they’ll need to pack along, and playact the vacation of their dreams. At iSpark Toys.

Take the waste out of on-the- road entertainment with Jaq Jaq Bird’s Bored Boards, games edition. These sturdy, reusable tiles, featuring classic travel games like 4 in a row and tic tac toe, come with four pieces of ButterStix no-dust chalk, and they wipe clean in a jiffy. At Hammer + Jacks, Polliwog or jaqjaqbird.com.

Make new tracks wherever you roam with a compact roll of “classic road” PlayTape, perfect for recasting a car window or airplane seat into a mini car or school bus super-highway. When you’re done, peel it off, throw it out, and be on your merry way. At Hammer + Jacks and inroadtoys.com.

Markers? Paints? Pastels? Whatever they are, Chunkies Paint Sticks by OOLY rule for long road trips. These quick-drying, rainbow-hued sticks glide smoothly onto any surface, from coloring books to in-flight magazines, and they last for eons if you remember to cap ’em. At Collage or ooly.com.

Amy Richter of Music Workshop

WHO: In 2012 Amy Richter, a Beaverton mom of two, learned that her children’s school district was being hit with major budget cuts. One of the first things on the chopping block was music education. With an educational background in music, psychology and music therapy, Richter knew music was vital to all forms of learning. So she founded Music Workshop, an organization that provides free music lessons for educators. Music Workshop is taught in more than 80 schools throughout the Portland-metro area. But it is more than a local program; over 1,750 schools in the United States and across the globe teach Music Workshop lessons.

WHAT: Richter, who is the executive director of Music Workshop, is now focusing on diversity in music education. “The Native American Traditional Music Course is the first in this series of culturally specific music education courses designed to promote inclusion, celebrate diversity and empower students to incorporate music into their lives,” says Richter. “The new course will focus on the musical styles, traditions and instruments used by tribes throughout North America.”

WHY: “For students of color, [diverse music education] can provide a sense of inclusion as they see their cultural heritage reflected in their academic learning,” says Richter. “Even though more than half of students in the U.S. are students of color, music education traditionally focuses on European musical traditions and this can lead to a sense of isolation for children from other cultural backgrounds.” Richter also notes that classrooms that employ culture-based strategies benefit all students and lead to higher student emotional well-being, a deeper sense of belonging at school, and enhanced self-esteem. — D.C.

In the Know: Find Your Tribe

Parenting can be joyous — and tough. But the support of other parents can make things just a little easier. Enter the Milagros Daily Pod parent groups. The baby boutique in Northeast Portland has long focused on building community, and they are now spreading the love to other spots in the city including the New Seasons on North Williams and Hoot-n-Annie in Southwest. Parents can come to group with or without kids to share successes and stresses. Find out more at milagrosboutique.com. — D.C.

Good Deeds: Better to Give

Holiday wish lists and chilly temps can present a double-whammy for Portland families struggling to make ends meet. This December, get your kids (ages 4 and up) into the giving spirit by helping Northwest Children’s Outreach sort and package orders of donated toys, clothing, books, baby gear and more. The volunteer sessions — which take place all around Portland metro — are lively, no training is required, and donations support Oregon’s low-income and foster families through the winter months and beyond. (Pro tip: This is a faith-based organization; an optional prayer takes place at the start of each session.) To volunteer, or to request a helping hand for your own family, visit northwestchildrensoutreach.org. — E.J.B.

We Recommend: Tossits

If you are anything like me, there’s a multi-layered pile of kid art, crumbled-up Goldfish crackers, empty squishy packs, and assorted sticks and leaves lining the floor of your car. Now I get a lot of product pitches, but for obvious reasons, Tossits car garbage bags caught my eye. Seriously — within a day of hanging the pack of 10 tear-off trash bags over the back of the passenger seat in my minivan, my ride was noticeably cleaner. I finally had a place to toss the multitude of gum wrappers clogging up the little compartment I use for holding lip balm and coins. I even got my 4-year-old to throw away some of his garbage in the bag and not on the floor. Good to know: The bags are made of recycled materials and are recyclable. So thumbs up for an easy way to tidy up and get just a tiny bit more sanity in my life. 3 packs of 10 bags for $15.99. At tossits.com. — D.C.

Playlist: Hip Hop with Heart

I grew up loving hip-hop and rap. But once I started paying more attention to the lyrics, I stopped loving it so much. The sexism and homophobia common in so many songs was not something I wanted to support — and later as a parent did not want to normalize for my kids. That’s why I loved the Alphabet Rockers when I first heard their 2016 album The Playground Zone. They delivered body-rocking hip-hop and ultra-positive lyrics. But with their newest album The Love, the GRAMMY-nominated Alphabet Rockers have made rap something I really needed to share with my kids. Tommy Shepherd and Kaitlin McGaw have turned their social justice focus on topics such as toxic masculinity, nonbinary identity, pronoun usage and trans awareness. “It was tough at first because [as CIS-gendered people] we felt we didn’t have a right to this. Because in this world, I was like a white person — with privilege … and biases,” says Shepherd. “Both Kaitlin and I had to dig into ourselves and figure that out, too.” So they enlisted the help of nonbinary and trans artists such as The Singing Bois. “And we just kept asking permission, asking permission from the Native artists, too,” says Shepherd. The intro track, This Is Ohlone Land, features Native chanting and the Two-Spirit drum. It’s amazingly powerful and was inspired by a letter the group got asking them to acknowledge the land they perform on. Pro tip: This album (of kids’ music!) is so moving you may get a little choked up listening to the song Until You’re Free like I did.  — D.C.

Ask Dr. Doug

Q: Our friend’s newborn was diagnosed with CMV and has some hearing loss. I’d never even heard of CMV before. Is it only transmitted in utero? Or can kids get it, too?        

A:  CMV, or cytomegalovirus, is a common virus that most of us have never heard of. By age 40, the majority of adults have been infected with it. In healthy kids and adults, it causes mild symptoms and in many cases causes no symptoms at all. In some teenagers, CMV infection looks like mononucleosis, with sore throat, fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. It’s transmitted through fluids like urine, saliva or blood. Like some other viruses, once you’ve been infected, the virus remains dormant in your body without causing any trouble. 

CMV becomes an issue when the virus is passed from mom to baby during pregnancy. This is called congenital CMV. The majority of babies born with congenital CMV have no problems and never develop any. However, around
10 percent have symptoms at birth that can include a rash, yellow eyes and skin (called jaundice), low birth weight, a small head, enlarged liver and spleen, and damage to the eyes. About 50 percent of babies born with symptoms will go on to have long-term problems, including hearing loss, blindness, intellectual disability and seizures. Treatment with an antiviral medication can lessen the severity of hearing loss and may improve head and brain growth, but there is no cure.

Unfortunately, even babies born with congenital CMV who have no symptoms can develop hearing loss later in life. That’s why we screen all babies in the hospital for hearing issues after they are born, and if you have any concerns about your child’s hearing or language development, see an audiologist and have their hearing checked.  

Preventing CMV in pregnant women is complicated, because women might be infected prior to becoming pregnant, and if that infection is reactivated, there aren’t any good treatments available. In general, pregnant women should practice good handwashing and try not to get covered in saliva from kids in day care (generally a good rule of thumb for everyone who wants to avoid getting sick). 

CMV can also be life-threatening for those with decreased immune systems, such as adults with HIV or children undergoing cancer treatment or after an organ transplant. 

There is no vaccine for CMV. A similar disease for which we do have a vaccine is rubella (the “R” in MMR). In healthy kids, rubella causes a mild rash and fever that resolves quickly. However if a pregnant woman gets infected with rubella, it can cause blindness, deafness, brain damage and heart defects in the fetus. All the more reason to get immunized against the diseases for which we do have vaccines.  

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