By Rebecca Schmitz
Thanks to the hard work and initiative of one Western Albemarle High School student, more children in underserved and rural areas in and around Charlottesville will be exposed to STEM-related learning in the upcoming school year. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.) Largely due to the efforts of junior Madison Crouch, the Shannon Foundation for Excellence in Education awarded its largest grant—$4,982—to Western’s Robotics Club to increase its community outreach efforts.
Crouch got the idea to apply for the grant after observing that the club’s existing hands-on learning materials did not allow the club to reach enough children during its events at elementary schools. “We wanted more materials to use with a larger number of kids,” she said.
Although the club had received Shannon grants—which are designed to help public schools implement innovative teaching ideas—in past years for smaller amounts, Crouch felt more money was needed to adequately reach more students. “We had two different kits that we’ve used for different outreach that we’ve gotten with Shannon grant money, but it just wasn’t enough for the amount of students that we wanted to start working with. We were working with around 8 kids, and I wanted to work with a lot more at one time.”
With the encouragement of career specialist Caroline Bertrand, who worked with Crouch as the sponsor of the club, Crouch identified the budget needed to purchase more robotics kits (which are used to teach children how to make circuits) to use during the club’s sessions with elementary students. “We had to write a three-page grant application describing what our message is and what we wanted to do with the money. And we had to write a budget with the different materials we wanted to buy and explain how we would implement all of our ideas in the community.” Crouch worked with two parent volunteers who had grant writing experience.
The club’s outreach involves “Going out in the community and sharing what we do, and trying to get more kids involved in STEM,” Crouch said. The Club participates in “Girls’ Geek Day,” which allows up to 80 girls to participate in hands-on STEM learning and is held in elementary schools throughout the county. They also visit elementary schools hoping to spark students’ interest in STEM activities.
“We give them a general introduction of what we do as a club, and talk about robotics, and then we introduce the activities we’re going to do and break into groups, with a few of our people working with each small group,” Crouch said. Last year, the Club also coordinated a hugely popular event open to the public at the Crozet Library, which enabled children to build, test, and drive miniature robots.
With the Shannon Grant, the club will be able to purchase more equipment and increase its outreach activities. In particular, the club hopes to reach underserved communities.
The grant will also allow the club to provide new services, such as a one-week technology-based STEM summer camp in June 2017. Bertrand says robotics club members will design the camp curriculum and run the activities themselves. “This is why I love this grant,” she said, “It’s all about service to the community. We are sending our students to volunteer in the community, and they are developing leadership skills as a result. So it’s not just the younger children who are benefitting, it’s all the club members. As they gain confidence, they step up and become the ones who run the activities. It’s really a two-way street. It’s an amazing learning opportunity for the robotics students as well as the younger children.”
Bertrand says Crouch’s hard work and diligence in pursuing the grant is exemplary. “I did none of the work—Madison did everything. She did it all. I think she is amazing at seeing the big picture, and in everything she does, she’s both doing it and thinking about what she’s doing and how it can be improved. She’s a very good communicator. She’s also very hard working and follows through on things.”
Crouch, who is considering pursuing renewable energy as a course of study in college, was inspired by her own experience in elementary school: “I know that when I was a kid, I went to a couple different activities where I learned about STEM, and those really helped interest me, so I like knowing that I’m doing that for the next generation.”
NOTE: The Robotics Club is always looking for adult volunteers! Bertrand says “No technical expertise is necessary, you just have to enjoy working with teenagers and learning from them.”