STANTON — In the past few years, public schools in Michigan have seen several “noncore” classes go by the wayside, whether it be video production, choir or band, as districts adjust to tighter budgets and curriculum restrictions.
But after Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) Superintendent Scott Koenigsknecht recently received a random phone call from a parent while standing in a parking lot, the possibilities to introduce a new course funded by government grants suddenly appears to be a real possibility.
The class? Robotics.
“I took a call from a parent who is very passionate about robotics,” Koenigsknecht said at Wednesday’s MAISD board meeting. “She was personally contacting ISD superintendents to try to get in front of local districts, superintendents and principals, to talk about this FIRST Robotics program.”
According to the FIRST Robotics program website, www.firstinmichigan.org, “Students on FIRST teams learn from and play with the ‘pros’ — professional engineers who donate their time to work side-by-side with students to help design and build the sophisticated competition robots. This gives FIRST students an insider’s view of a career in science, engineering and technology not possible in a normal classroom setting. Plus, unlike other high school athletics, every student on a FIRST robotics team has a chance to turn ‘pro.’”
Koenigsknecht said there is money in the state budget, $3 million, that has been set aside for districts to establish robotics teams in their high schools.
“It would allow our local districts to start these robotics teams, if they are interested,” he said.
It turns out that it’s no coincidence the parent who contacted Koenigsknecht, Gail Alpert, is interested in the program, as she serves as the vice president and secretary of FIRST in Michigan. She’s going to Skype in to the principals’ meeting later this month and talk about how to apply for state grant money.
“FIRST helps drive kids toward a career in engineering, even those with no prior exposure to the engineering field,” Alpert said.
Koenigsknecht said the grant money available is due to Gov. Rick Snyder’s approach to increasing awareness to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“We’re excited about it,” Koenigsknecht said. “There are no true robotics programs in Montcalm County.”
Associate Superintendent Katey Flynn said the FIRST program would be similar to the VEX Robotics program offered at Belding High School, the nearest district to currently offer any kind of robotics program.
Robotics students in Belding compete at several tournaments a year against other districts and now even host their own tournament in the new gymnasium at Belding High School.
“These kids build robots to do things that are just amazing,” Flynn said. “Subsequently, my son was on a robotics team and now has a job repairing robots in a factory in Cadillac. It’s just so applicable, I can’t say enough.”
Koenigsknecht said he can’t guarantee each district would take advantage of adapting and utilizing the FIRST robotics program, but said he is hopeful and is looking forward to introducing the program to all seven school districts in Montcalm County at the principals’ meeting.