INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- School can be tougher for some kids than others.
That's the challenge one high school student from Independence tackled, as he used a project from a woodworking class to help other kids learn one letter at a time.
What began as a class assignment is now a labor of love.
At Little Blue Elementary School in Independence, students with special needs are learning their names more easily, thanks to Connor Hiciano. He's a Van Horn High School sophomore who`s created wooden puzzles that spell out a person's first name.
Little Blue students, including 8-year-old Miguel, have used the puzzles to enhance their learning.
The puzzle's platform is multicolored and adorned with superhero stickers. Each letter is removable and required that the student place them in order.
It's been a week since Hiciano's puzzle came out of the sawdust in the industrial arts workshops at Van Horn High and into the special education classroom at Little Blue.
Miguel's puzzle is one of three Connor has created thus far, using a series of heavy duty saws and high-tech computers to shape wood into words.
"I saw that (Miguel) needed help learning. I figured I could help him," Hiciano said. "It helps with putting their name together, figuring out letters and having fun learning."
Hiciano's name puzzles are helping all kinds of kids, some of whom are not involved in special education classes. The 15-year-old said he didn't imagine these results when he finished the work last week.
"I saw it as a learning opportunity," Hiciano said on Wednesday.
Ashley Cook, one of Little Blue's special education teachers, said the puzzles are helping Miguel, who was born with Down's Syndrome, where other teaching gadgets haven't.
"We have been doing the puzzle every day," Cook said. "The difference is Miguel loves puzzles. Second of all, this puzzle is covered with all of his favorite things. It's his favorite colors, which is great, and it's something tangible. Something he can hold."
And now, Miguel and Connor have become inseparable pals, thanks to the puzzle. On Wednesday, Miguel was often seen giving his puzzle-creating friend hugs and high-fives.
"You really can't count the hours. You saw Miguel. When you see the smile and the hug, it really makes it all worthwhile. You forget about the time you had invested in the project," Jim Oatman, Van Horn High School industrial arts teacher, said.
"They love everybody. They're willing to learn and try," Hiciano said.
And now, his creation has led to a strong relationship. Van Horn High teachers said they've received more requests for name puzzles.
Hiciano said he's pleased that his work is making a big difference. He said he's planning to attend medical school after graduation. Van Horn High leaders said they're hopeful to find other educational tools, in addition to the name puzzles, the school's industrial arts department could create.