The Robotics program has become so popular it is exceeding its funding and is turning to a unique source to raise more money.

By Adam Wolfe

The VEX robotics teams within the Maricopa Unified School District have gone from one team at Maricopa Elementary School to 14 teams across the district and outgrown the funding available through the Maricopa Ak-Chin STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Foundation.

The robotics program started with one team at Maricopa Elementary in 2012. Its popularity grew slowly, but the program expanded to two teams in 2013 and five teams in 2014. After competitive success grew with more teams involved, the program has exploded and expects to have 14 teams for the 2015 school year.

The growth of the program is a positive sign for youth wanting to get involved with science, according to program coordinator and Intel employee Rachael Burno. The only issue that comes with the program’s growth is the funding needed to support it. The VEX coordinators have turned to GoFundMe.com to help raise money.

“We are still receiving funding from the STEAM Foundation, but we could have some issues providing equipment to all of the teams,” Burno said. “We have enough funding to cover most of the costs. We were able to purchase five more robots. But we need some help with competition costs and other expenses.”

The goal of the VEX robotics program is to keep today’s youth interested in science and math. It allows students to see real world applications of the processes they learn in class, while also developing technological skills that will be increasingly important as they grow older.

“It’s our way to support STEAM,” Burno said. “Students who have the opportunity to join a program like this are more likely to enter a STEAM career field. My goal is to provide our students with enough opportunities here they can build on to bigger and better opportunities later in life.”

This year, the majority of schools within MUSD have at least one team. Maricopa Elementary has one, Saddleback Elementary School has one, Pima Butte Elementary School has three, Santa Cruz Elementary School has one, Maricopa High School has three, Desert Wind Middle School has one, and Butterfield Elementary School may get a team during the year.

Currently, Santa Rosa Elementary School and Maricopa Wells Middle School do not have teams, but the =VEX program is hoping they’ll join.

Leading Edge Academy is the only non-district school to have a robotics program with three teams. Other charter schools are welcome, but the program needs more funding to support the extra teams.

For students, the robotics program offers a hands-on experience to develop skills with mechanics and programming. For parents, it provides another outlet to get their children socially involved with the school and their fellow classmates.

“My son is a freshman, and that is one of the clubs he wanted to be a part of,” active parent Merry Grace said. “It’s not just a high school thing. They have programs throughout the district, and it’s important to keep kids interested in things like this. Otherwise, what will they turn their attention to?”

With so many products existing that keep children inside and sheltered away from others, the school district and the STEAM Foundation are trying to provide more options for their students to be social while still learning important life skills. If the program can gather more funding, Burno believes the robotics program could just be the beginning.

“We are hoping to expand beyond robotics as well,” Burno said. “We want to introduce students to more extracurricular activities.”

For more information about donating or helping the VEX robotics program, visit www.gofundme.com/MaricopaRobotics.

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