Last Friday (October 20, 2023), we hosted a community outreach event at Vernon Hill School Elementary School in Worcester, MA. The event was called Blasting Off With Pilot: Robotics on the Hill.
After connecting with Vernon Hill, principal Craig Dottin, whose vision for the school aligns perfectly with our values, expressed some doubts about the school’s ability to take on more coursework. He thought his teachers would be too busy to incorporate a new program due to the district and state’s strict education standards.
We figured the best way to help the kids AND the overworked teachers would be to dedicate some time to the school. We gathered a team of 15 volunteers from WPI and staff from local after-school program Our Bright Future for a day of educational enrichment; we brought 80 robot kits and classroom packages to The Vernon Hill School and coached the students for 4 hours. Our founder’s mom, sister, and fiancee helped out, too.
The workshop could not have gone better. The students were obsessed with the robot kits. We saw them work together and actually help each other learn. Working in groups of 3-4, they made mistakes, reached out to ask questions, and then tried again. Eventually, they all succeeded in building, programming, and testing out a robot. The students were all asking when they could do it again.
Three staff members from The Gerald Creamer Center, a nearby alternative education institution, caught wind of the event and stopped by to check it out. They were so taken that they stuck around for a few hours and helped assist a number of students.
The teachers had mentioned that they have struggled to keep kids from all grades focused. Audrey Brooks, a teacher with a sub-separate therapeutic classroom of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at Vernon Hill, was floored by the impact of the program.
“What I’ve seen today is immense engagement with kids. I’ve seen kids who struggle with being in a group and struggle with directions pay attention and follow along. I've seen kids who struggle to engage be very engaged, and the hands-on aspect has not only kept them engaged all day, but my classroom usually has a lot of “behaviors,” and I've seen no behaviors today. My kids who struggle the most, are being the most successful.”