Building cool robots helps level the playing field for rookie schools

Verizon Foundation grant helps all students develop a love of STEM.

By on October 26, 2015

What’s as exciting as a rocking basketball game, involves the strategy of chess, a gallery of screaming fans and cool robots crawling around a huge game floor?

It’s the annual build-a-robot-competition staged by Rocky Mountain BEST, short for boosting engineering, science and technology. The organization’s slogan gets right to the point: “Build a robot in six weeks; inspire a youth for a lifetime.”

The Verizon Foundation has awarded a grant to Rocky Mountain BEST to help the inspiration continue.

“Rocky Mountain BEST provides the materials to create a competition robot, but low-income schools may have difficulty raising funds to help offset ancillary costs, such as team travel, lunches and tools, involved in fielding a team,” said Rocky Mountain BEST President Kathy Geise. “Verizon Foundation funding will help these schools attract and retain students who would not normally be able to afford an experience such as the BEST robotics competition.”

Practice day game floor

Fifty-eight schools are participating this year across Colorado. Each team gets the same kit of parts and must create a strategy, design and then build their competitive robot. Each year’s game is different.  This year’s challenge is “Pay Dirt”, a mining game. Teams must use their robot to mine glass, utensils and other materials to score points.

Advisors say students learn problem solving, technological literacy, teamwork and presentation writing and execution. Advisors of schools who are aided by Verizon’s donation say the money was vital to them finally having the resources to take part, proven by the fact that this year, there are 14 rookie schools involved.

“This grant is huge for our school because it provides us the ability to offer these kinds of competitions to more students,” says Thomas Jefferson High School advisor Matt Santambrogio. “Budget cuts are huge. While our program is constantly expanding, it has become exclusionary in years past as we’ve raised lab fees for our students and when you’re an FRL (Free or Reduced Lunch program) student, those fees are prohibitive. This money makes it much more accessible for all our students instead of just students who can afford the lab fees.”

In addition, Rocky Mountain BEST is also collaborating with Verizon on ways to utilize volunteers throughout the competition’s run each year.                

Rocky Mountain BEST was established as a non-profit in 2010 in order to provide a no-cost, high-quality hands-on education experience in robotics to middle and high school students in Colorado.

The Verizon Foundation funding is critical in increasing participation and proficiency of middle and high schools with more than 40% of their students enrolled in Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) programs in the competition. This support is removing obstacles that keep these schools from participating and will also provide resources to these schools to increase their competition proficiency.