Robotics Program Takes Off at Camelot’s Excel Academy Southwest
Robots are becoming a part of daily life. They are used in industry and manufacturing to perform tasks too dangerous for human beings. Robots, controlled by humans are rolling over the landscape of Mars and sending back to Earth information about the environment of the red planet. For many high school students, such as those at Camelot Education’s Excel Academy Southwest in Chicago, studying about and building small robots is a boost in their continuing learning experience.
“One of our teachers is an engineer connected with the FIRST Tech Challenge. We purchased some robots for the students to build and they began competing in contests,” said Jamal Tillery, executive director of Excel Academy. “The FIRST Tech Challenge engages students to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenges.”
FIRST’s mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills.
Jake Benke, principal of the school, said that what began as a small program of four select students has grown into a blossoming undertaking that has a waiting list of want-to-be participants. The current group is limited to 12 students.
“We started the program four years ago,” Benke said. “Later, we got a grant through Mikva Challenge to expand. We were able to build an arena on site for the robots and we’ve been obtaining grants for the students to improve their robots. The kids who participate are extremely enthusiastic about it.”
Benke said the program has become a platform to educate the local community about robots. They’ve spoken to business owners and the police department about a science and technology that is the wave of the future. Students in the program use their on-site arena to have the robots undertake different challenges. One will control the robotic arm, the other controls the wheels. Our school is one of the only in the Chicago area that has a robotic program.”
According to Benke, low paying jobs are slowly disappearing and being replaced by robots. As an example, he stated that part of Excel Academy’s overall program is moving graduates into full-time employment. One of those jobs was meter reading, a task that is now being performed by robots.
“The job itself is no longer available but in terms of career development, repairing these systems is,” Benke said. The program is an elective course. Students at Excel Academy have to take three electives to graduate. The robotics program is a career cluster, three credits in one.
“There are science fiction stories where robots take over the world. When people tell me they’re worried about that, I tell them our students will be ready to defend us. They’re experts in robotics.”