Lexington County students are getting big money to build robots
The State. Isabella Cueto. October 08, 2018.

These days, even a 12-year-old can build a robot.

Technology-based skills are increasingly in-demand in the workforce, and schools are beefing up their STEM education — yes, that includes robots — to train students to keep up.

In Lexington 1 schools, robotics has grown in popularity over the past few years, and the district is devoting money to match the interest.

Several in the district are getting a share of $48,000 to kick-start new robotics teams and bolster existing ones.

Most of that money — $30,000 — will come from Michelin, the tire company that has a local plant in Lexington. The money will be spread out over three years and will help schools buy the often-expensive equipment involved with robotics. The other $18,000 is from the Lexington 1 Educational Foundation and is being distributed immediately.

Julie Washburn, executive director of the foundation, said the grants are reflections of what students wanted. As in other local school districts, robotics and other STEM programs have been in high demand.

River Bluff High School is one of the schools that will use part of the seed money to buy materials for its new robotics team.

Last week, 10 River Bluff students crowded around a table in a far corner of the expansive school campus. It was after school. The band was gearing up for practice on the field outside, and students were laughing and lining bulletin boards in the hallway with colorful paper. These students, however, were devising how to make a robot that would vanquish competitors.

It’s the first year of the robotics team at River Bluff, and it’s only had a few meetings. But already, eager hands shoot up when volunteer teacher Don Mellen asks a question. Most team members are trying out robotics for the first time, so there’s a learning curve.

The team captain, sophomore William Wenzel, is helping guide his peers through the process of designing a suitable robot — one that can throw, turn flags, score points and recover from attacks by opponents. The team has just under two months to prepare for its first competition on Dec. 1.

Wenzel looks on intently as his teammates make decisions. He’s been involved in robotics since he was in elementary school, and he’s been “nitpicking” at designs since he was even younger, he says.

His attention to detail comes in handy in robotics practice. His freshman year, Wenzel built robots as part of the team at Lexington Technology Center, a technical school that’s the school district’s hub for advanced STEM education.

LTC serves students from various schools in the district, but it can be difficult for students like Wenzel, who had to commute 20 to 30 minutes every week for practices. After a while, he said, the distance started discouraging him from taking part in robotics.

Having a team at his own high school is a big relief.

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