LET'S GO Boys and Girls News
Thrill of robotics attracts youth Boys & Girls Club launches pilot program
By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital
Monday afternoons at 5, it's hard to tear 9-year-old Daryus Scott away from the Robotics Resource Center at the Boys & Girls Club at the Bates Legacy Center in Annapolis.
"I like programming and building robots," said the Germantown Elementary School fourth-grader as his fingers moved over his robo-creation. "I'm learning how to build robots from pieces. They don't look like the robots in movies, though."
Daryus' robot looked like a remote control on wheels, surrounded by a colorful fretwork of LEGO parts. After he set his machine on a table, it began rolling. A light sensor on its undercarriage guided it along a thick black line on the table. Daryus had programmed it to operate that way.
When the youngster sat at a computer, he was joined by South River High School sophomores Andrew Hitchison and Chris Bellis, both 15 and members of the school's Power Hawks robotics club. The trio huddled over the screen, trying to unscramble a glitch in the robot's program.
"We were both on the junior staff here at the Boys & Girls Club summer camp," said Chris "We liked it so much, we came back to volunteer on the FIRST LEGO League at the club." (FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.)
Patrick Gomoljac, 16, a South River senior, sprawled on the floor next to Jasmonet Fletcher, 9.
"I'm trying to build a basic robot," the Rolling Knolls fourth-grader explained.
"We're using these instructions as a guide," said Patrick, tapping the page and stroking his chin. "I'm a mentor," he said. "We're giving the kids a different perspective."
Watching the children, teens and several adults working on various robots around the large, sunlit room strewn with LEGOS were Boys & Girls Club of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County employee Martin Stinson and volunteer Dr. Clark "Corky" Graham, who retired recently as senior vice president of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems.
|Wendi Winters – For The Capital South River High senior Patrick Gomoljak, 16, helps Jasmonét Fletcher, 9, a Rolling Knolls Elementary School fourth-grader, build a basic robot from Lego pieces and electronic parts during the LET’S GO program in the Robotics Resource Center at the Boys & Girls Club at the Bates Legacy Center.|
Graham is spearheading a pilot program at all five of the clubs in Anne Arundel County. If it is successful, he hopes to eventually roll the program out to all 4,300 locations nationwide, which serve more than 4.5 million youth.
The program is called LET'S GO, an acronym for Leadership, Engineering, Technology & Science Generating Opportunities.
"It's our version of the public school's STEM program - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math," said Graham.
"We're testing the model here," the retired engineer said. "We're hoping to create a pipeline of future scientists, mathematicians or business owners. The next 10 years, 20 percent of our retirement-eligible work force will leave. Foreign-born scientists comprise 50 percent of the current professional scientific work force here - and they're leaving, too."
He has found that minority and female schoolchildren are not attracted to the STEM fields "because they're not getting stimulus at home or in our schools."
Graham was particularly frustrated recently when a promising Annapolis-area student with a talent for engineering missed the deadline to become an out-of-district enrollee in South River High's new STEM Magnet Program.
"He never heard about the STEM program - his school didn't tell him about it," said Graham.
Part of the LET'S GO program at the Boys & Girls Clubs will be continuous counseling, tutoring and support provided by mentor-volunteers. These mentors will work with middle school students on science projects, encourage them to enroll in summer STEM camps at the Naval Academy and elsewhere, help them with their applications to the STEM Magnet programs at South River or North County high schools, and assist with college application paperwork.
Some mentors will work with younger children, helping to engage them with simple yet fun science experiments. One easy project examines neutral buoyancy with "flinks" - objects that neither float nor sink.
"We're starting with robots because it's cool," said Graham.
In addition to the Robotics Resource Center, he is establishing linked resource centers at each club for music, science and careers.
"In the Music Resource Center, we hope to create dancing robots. They'll be choreographed, programmed to dance to music," said Graham. "Kids who like music and those who like robots will work together to figure out how to do it."
A LEGO League
The clubs are also setting up a FIRST LEGO League for youth ages 9 to 14, and a Junior FIRST LEGO League.
In addition to the Power Hawks at South River High, LET'S GO recently acquired volunteers from the African American Task Group at Northrop Grumman. "These are engineers and scientists who will work side-by-side with these kids and help inspire them," said Graham.
Two afternoons a week, LET'S GO also receives help from midshipmen members of the U.S. Naval Academy chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.
Industry volunteers include Pat Cooley, president of a local tech company, RelianceNet, and Northrup Grumman engineer Bill Aucoin, his wife Dana and his son Nicholas, a Broadneck High student.
Want to volunteer?
The Boys & Girls Clubs need still more volunteers and financial assistance to make LET'S GO a go. "We would appreciate any volunteers that could help," said Bill Aucoin.
Nearby, Dana Aucoin helped Cara Bydume, a St. Mary's fourth-grader, assemble her robot before checking out its metrics on a computer.
"I'm learning how to tell the robot how to do something by programming it," said Cara as she fiddled with the light sensor.
"We'd like to build a girls' robotics team," noted Dana Aucoin. "It would be fun to have an all-girls team compete against an all-boys team. They might inspire each other."
"This program is about exciting these children, stimulating them, and supporting them through the pipeline," added Graham.
|"The president and I believe that ensuring our nation's children are excelling in the STEM fields is essential for our nation's prosperity, security, health and quality of life,” Secretary Duncan said. “All of us need to be engaged in task of improving STEM education. Business leaders and major donors are leading the way, and leaders from other sectors need to join them." U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan