and I really believe in this hands-on approach.” “SCH has been incredibly generous with their time and resources,” PSD transition coordinator Cindy Sawyer says. “The growth in the students between year one and two is evident. We watched students who struggled last year with building with LEGOs easily and skillfully build the missions this year.” Since this partnership began, PSD has been able to secure several grants to invest in technology equipment and tools, and they have also formed a STEAM team (The “a” is for arts). Sawyer says their robotics students feel “seen and celebrated.” “In two years, Pennsylvania School for the Deaf has become positioned to prepare our students for a future in computer science,” Sawyer says. “We would not have been able to do so without the support of SCH.” Two years ago, SCH also decided to offer free Sunday afternoon robotics sessions out of a church basement in Mt. Airy. Any area child whose school did not have a robotics team was welcome to join what is called the Mt. Airy Community Team, made up of one FLL and three FLL Jr. teams. Hadley Sager ’19 and Victoria Cohen ’21 are two leaders of SCH’s outreach efforts with this group. One thing Hadley loves about working with the Mt. Airy students is watching them have fun with robotics, without necessarily realizing that they’re learning new things. “I really love seeing them work together and learn how to interact,” Hadley says. “A lot of kids don’t get exposure to this kind of program. It seems to be really meaningful to them to be able to learn and have a lot of fun at the same time.”
Edward Gu ’21, a member of SCH Academy’s Upper School Team 1218, offers some pointers to members of one of the school’s FLL girls teams.
The Mt. Airy students are encouraged to play with LEGOs, build moving robots, and work together to think about open-ended questions like “How would you use energy on the moon?” These kids also competed at SCH’s FLL and FLL Jr. robotics tournament, where they made a poster and presented their models in front of judges.
on their own.” Vicki, who is in her second year of mentoring the Mt. Airy students, says she loves seeing the kids’ happiness at watching their ideas come to life and their energy at competitions. One thing she emphasizes with the students is the FIRST robotics team’s core values, such as inclusion, innovation, discovery, and fun.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me to learn how to coach younger kids and be supportive of them as they’re trying to figure out their ideas,” Hadley says. “We teach them how to articulate and share their thoughts to let other people know what they’re building and what they’re interested in.”
“It’s not all about building robots, and it’s not all about coming up with a solution to the problem,” Vicki says. “It’s about teamwork—working together and finding out who has what strength and how you can use that.”
She adds that it’s rewarding to see the kids demonstrate what they have created to their parents. They learn how to explain how they built a machine that moves materials from one place to another, or why they wanted to design a spaceship in a particular way.
These outreach programs, along with several others the school runs, demonstrate how SCH students are actively living out the school’s charge to lead lives characterized by thoughtfulness, integrity, and a quest to effect positive change. Whether casually connecting LEGO pieces over conversation in the basement of a church or standing shoulder to shoulder to cheer on students in the midst of a tournament, SCH students are carrying out the promise of the SCH robotics program: building better students one robot at a time.
“We’re trying to teach the kids, but at the end of the day, we want them to have fun and learn the joys of being able to build things and design things together,” Hadley says. “And I definitely think that I’ve grown personally through the program. I feel like I’ve become a better teacher. I’ve learned the skills to be able to help students while still letting them learn and grow
school magazine spring