In today’s technologically advanced world, schools and districts in cities all over the country are encouraging students to push their boundaries in fields of science and technology; Rancho Santa Fe has been no exception.
RSF school district prides itself on its commitment to learning through active participation and a rich academic experience, which it achieves through its vision of “inspiration through revolutionary education.” The district offers a wide variety of programs to its students, including art, drama, music and athletics. But science has become something of a hallmark to its schools in the recent years.
According to the district website, technology is considered an integral component of the schools’ academic programs, where the use of the Internet, multi-media authoring, and curriculum-based software are considered powerful and practical tools in the digital age.
The robotics program in particular has recently taken off with great success at the R. Roger Rowe School, a combined elementary and middle school located in the Rancho Santa Fe district. Home to about 700 students, the school offers the advantage of small class sizes, distinguished academics, and countless extracurricular activities.
Just last August, the board approved the district’s offering for robotics, allocating $42,500 to staff coaches. This year, approximately 44 percent of the school’s first graders are participating in the robotics program, and many of the student participate on numerous teams into middle school. Through the program, students of all ages are given the opportunity to master the principles of robotics as they learn to build and program autonomous robots, examine the mechanical and programming aspects using a variety of tools and resources, and collaborate with peers on projects and assignments.
The school is fielding 44 robotics teams in total, where in the middle school, there are two First Lego League teams and five First Tech Challenge teams. These teams compete against children from all over the world in a variety of challenges and events throughout the year.
The robotics program is supported by district board members, parent volunteers, teachers, and of course, the students themselves. “Where the program has gone is really remarkable,” said RSF School District Board Trustee Todd Buchner.
Trustee Todd Frank expressed just how much the robotics program is a shared community effort, saying he would be interested in polling parents to find out what their expectations are for the program, as well as what sparked their child’s interest to participate.
Teachers Dave Warner and John Galipault have largely spearheaded the program since its beginnings. Both teachers went to Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute to learn about the programming and the NXT controller the robots use. While John Galipualt coordinates the First Lego League Robotics program for first through sixth graders, Dave Warner leads the First Tech Challenge Robotics program for the seventh and eighth graders. They, along with other coaches, are paid $4,000 to $5,000 a year for after-school and weekend practices.
Although the robotics program has certainly showcased young students’ high-tech abilities and talent for mastering complex concepts, it has also inspired values of dedication and teamwork amongst its participants. As put by student Alex Lillian, “It was more about bonding with friends…than it was about winning and getting first place.”