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BHS Students Learn Professional & Life Skills in Robotics Club

Jan 29, 2018 06:00AM ● By David Dunbar

The entire BHS Robotics Club, including several adults who skillfully guide the young members.

story & photo by Dave Dunbar, Contributing Writer

For the dozen or so Bellingham High School students who participate in the Robotics Club, the experience goes well beyond assembling robot parts, writing computer code and attaching wires.

“They learn team work,” explained George Haddad, the Robotics Club advisor. “They develop a can-do attitude and work collaboratively to overcome obstacles, including failure.”
“And failure,” said Sean Gerrior, an 18-year-old BHS senior, “can be a good learning experience.”  He’s planning ahead for college and, later, a job in computer science or electrical engineering.

The mission of the Robotics Club is “to provide students with an opportunity to express their engineering creativity and build soft skills necessary for success in their professional life,” said Haddad.

The Club meets Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for about three hours each day after school.  Most recently, the students were building a small robot in preparation for competitions with other similar clubs.

Three professional, adult coaches attend meetings and provide students with specific problem-solving advice and a larger perspective on life in general. Patrick Callahan, one of the coaches, explained: “We encourage the kids to make their own decisions and choices. We bring in outside industry knowledge, techniques and methods to help them.”

The Robotics Club started at Bellingham High School about two years ago when Haddad, a mathematics teacher, saw a need and wrote a sizeable personal check to get the club up and running.

Money goes to purchase materials and equipment. It also pays for entry fees, travel and related expenses so that club members can participate in local and regional competitions.

The BHS club is part of a national organization known as FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology),which stages competitions around the U.S. Team members are challenged to design, build, program and operate robots to compete in head-to-head challenges. Participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have,” according to the FIRST web site:

Haddad says, “Competition is the catalyst” that drives the students to finish projects before the deadline.

Perseverance matters too. “Try again,” said club member Maleek Beaser, 18. “You can mess up lots of things and encounter mistakes and obstacles, but you will eventually get it!” He would like a career in computer science after college, with an eye on coding for games.

Eighth-grader Lucy Sullivan said, “I learn a lot of skills, including things like soldering and crimping wires.” The well-rounded Sullivan is also in the school’s drama club, but says, “I love robotics!”

On hand recently as the students were building their robot was patron and facilitator Jeff Scornavacca. He noted that the Club is “inclusive” and pointed out “the demand in the marketplace for people who can build things that involve engineering.”

Scornavacca’s niece, Lauren, was also present. An honors student at Northeastern University studying engineering and robotics, she observed how the students in the Robotics Club are learning lessons other students may learn by playing sports. “Camaraderie and trust are built as these kids work and compete together,” she said.

To continue, the Robotics Club needs funding. The Bellingham Educational Foundation has been “very supportive and we are very grateful” said Haddad. “Without help from the community, we couldn’t offer our kids these challenges and opportunities.”

“Ultimately, the curriculum, materials and resources purchased for our club can also be used to develop an elective robotics course at BHS. Students will be introduced to engineering disciplines such as coding, design, CAD, programming, construction and control types. We believe that learning the principles of robotics will help prepare high school students for a continued educational path in STEM [Science, Technology, Electronics and Math] coursework and a possible career in an engineering field,” explained Haddad.

Not long ago, two new students joined the Robotics Club; each was in danger of academic failure and had behavioral issues. Now, Haddad says he hears reports from their teachers that each student is “doing well.” Reports one of the students, “We have friends now.”

To find out more about the Robotics Club, or to make a contribution to support it, please call George Haddad, 508-966-3761, ext. 2200, or email him at [email protected].




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