Robotics Club in Elementary Schools: Austin, TX
Volunteers from the Sathya Sai Center of Austin, Texas have been actively involved in creating robotics clubs in select elementary schools since Fall 2010 with the aim of nurturing in students an early interest in robotics, engineering and technology. It all began in 2005 when the Principal of McBee Elementary School, approached the Sai Center for help with tutoring students in her school, most of whom were from low-income and non-English speaking families.
In 2012, in addition to the ongoing tutoring, robotics clubs were initiated for 4th and 5th graders at both McBee and Bagdad Elementary Schools with the help of Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) student, Sailesh Kumar, a high school senior with a passion for robotics. Rearranging his own priorities and schedule, Sailesh made time after school, four days a week, to coach two robotics teams. Thanks to the success of that initial effort, the robotics program was eventually expanded to three other schools. For the past seven years, about twenty Sai volunteers, seven adults and thirteen high school students, have enthusiastically mentored nearly 90 students in robotics. They meet twice a week, with each meeting lasting 60-90 minutes. They have been greatly facilitated by the support of the National Instruments Corporation, a company that produces robotics kits and offers a one-day training in robotics. Subsequently, volunteers were also able to secure grants from high tech employers in the area including 3M, Intel and Skillpoint Alliance, which were used to purchase Robotics Lego kit, competition entry fees and T-Shirts.
While the teams from these schools began by participating in robotics contests, the teams have become competitive over the years. Allison Elementary has won awards for three years and on two occasions advanced to the regional event. This year, they were given special recognition by the judges for their project – an accessible park for children of all abilities. Bagdad elementary won an award this year for their innovative project of redirecting birds from their parking lot, and even got the school district involved with their proposal to clean the bird waste.
According to Bagdad Elementary School Principal, Christine Hilbun, over 400 students participate in various after-school clubs at their school, but most of it would not be possible without the help of volunteers. These activities help economically disadvantaged students avail of opportunities that are often easily accessible to students from school districts in more affluent neighborhoods. The volunteers receive many thank you cards at the end of each term, and parents often express their heartfelt gratitude.
Rathna, a high school student who has volunteered for three years, reflects on her experience: “I’ve absolutely loved getting to know all of the students each meeting. They each have their own interests, from building intricate gear trains to learning about different ecosystems and species. I’m so glad we were able to work with them to see how they could apply these interests within STEM. The environment was so fun and welcoming that students always made an effort to attend meetings and talk about their week, and one kid even willingly missed a birthday party so he could come.”