ALC students invent learning tool during quarantine

SWBOCES Students Pursue Their American Dream with Invention that Helps Teach Kids Math

‘Bigop Learn and Play’ conceived during quarantine by pair studying English and preparing for High School Equivalency and Citizenship examinations

  the Bigop Learn and Play boardFor Santiago Alzate, helping students with their math homework could be a challenge prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic itself, however, presented the SWBOCES student with an opportunity.

Mr. Alzate was a bilingual STEAM teacher in the after-school program at the White Plains Youth Bureau. He saw firsthand where students and teachers like himself struggled, as well as where they excelled. The experience inspired an innovation. During the time at home that the COVID-19 shutdown afforded to him and his partner and fellow SWBOCES student, Cinthia Chinchin, they developed the Bigop Learn and Play double-sided dry erase board.

“We spent a lot of time to make something brand new, something good for the kids and also for schools,” Mr. Alzate said.

The colorful tablets are designed to help elementary school-age students learn and practice addition, subtraction and, on the back, multiplication. With a website (, a presence on Facebook and Instagram, and a YouTube channel, as well as a patent pending, Mr. Alzate and Ms. Chinchin feel like they are pursuing the American dream. That’s fitting for two immigrants, him from Columbia by way of Spain and her from Ecuador.

Santiago and Cinthia with a Bigop boardThey are grateful to Southern Westchester BOCES for the Adult Education programs that have given them skills and opened opportunities that make this dream possible. Both attend Citizenship Exam preparation classes offered by SWBOCES’ Adult Literacy Center. Ms. Chinchin, who was an attorney in Ecuador, attends the center’s English as a Second Language classes. Meanwhile, Mr. Alzate, who studied humanities and philosophy, quickly completed the ESL program along with High School Equivalency exam preparation. They’ll complete the Citizenship class in the spring. “The opportunity that SWBOCES has given me has helped me to improve myself professionally,” Ms. Chinchin said. “It has opened a new door for my future.”

Mr. Alzate agreed, crediting both his partner and SWBOCES instructor Jose Bohorquez with encouraging him. “She said, ‘Santiago this is amazing. Don’t give up,” he recalled, adding that Mr. Bohorquez “just gave me the power to believe and to be focused.”

Mr. Bohorquez recalls meeting Mr. Alzate after SWBOCES began offering ESL and HSE classes at the White Plains Library. Mr. Alzate’s strong math and chemistry skills prompted Mr. Bohorquez to put him with an advanced group of students. “I encouraged Santiago because I knew he was a very smart guy,” Mr. Bohorquez said.

Like Mr. Alzate, Mr. Bohorquez also taught students math in a local after-school program. He immediately recognized the instructional value of the Bigop board. The moment was another example of many of the value of SWBOCES’ community programs. “The years that I’ve been teaching with Southern Westchester BOCES, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to help people to a better quality of life,” he said. “We make a huge difference in people’s lives.”

promo material for the Bigop board

“It’s heartening for us whenever any of our students goes on to achieve great success,” said Tracy Racicot, Director of Adult & Community Services. “Inventing a tool to help children learn is a fantastic example of the kinds of contributions we often see our ESL, HSE and Citizenship graduates make within their communities and in the world at large. SWBOCES graduates accomplish great things!”

Bigop was Mr. Alzate’s and Ms. Chinchin’s first attempt at inventing something. It was important to them, they said, to create something they believe will help children learn. Where he brought a teacher’s perspective to the project, she assisted with her legal expertise as well as a focus on design and marketing. What they have created, they believe, is a useful, comfortable learning tool, that is environmentally friendly since it is reusable. Its design makes it convenient to stuff in a backpack or school desk as easily as a notebook. They didn’t see anything exactly like it on the market. Their website features many photos and videos from their social media feeds, all of actual students demonstrating the Bigop board. There’s also an online store where boards may be purchased.

Mr. Alzate and Ms. Chinchin have high hopes for the product’s success. He recalls when they first came up with the idea, how she envisioned how popular it could become. “She said, ‘You know Santiago, we have to be focused on this because nobody has this tool,’” he said. “It will be amazing for kids.”

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