South Baldwin Chamber Foundation helps bring Robotics to local schools

By Jessica Vaughn / jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/26/18

FOLEY – The South Baldwin Chamber Foundation has been dedicated to enhancing local education and the lives of students since 2003, serving the students of Foley High School and its feeder schools. …

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South Baldwin Chamber Foundation helps bring Robotics to local schools

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FOLEY – The South Baldwin Chamber Foundation has been dedicated to enhancing local education and the lives of students since 2003, serving the students of Foley High School and its feeder schools. One of the ways that the SBCF helps is through student/teacher grants, and this year the grant winner was Foley Intermediate School. A teacher from the intermediate school applied concerning the school’s robotics program. With advancements in technology happening daily, classes concerning computer and technological skills have become some of the most rewarding subjects to offer students.

Thanks to the efforts of the South Baldwin Chamber Foundation, all six schools in Foley’s feeder pattern (Foley Elementary, Intermediate, Middle, and High Schools, Magnolia School, and Swift School) all have robotics programs being offered to the students. Originally, the Chamber Foundation approached PNC Bank to obtain $5,000 for the grant award. In the end, a total of $16,500 was put towards the robotics programs, with Centennial Bank Elberta contributing $1,500, National Bank of Commerce contributing $1,000, South Baldwin Chamber Foundation contributing $4,000, and PNC Bank contributing $10,000, double the original amount requested.

“All the schools in our feeder pattern have some form of robotics, whether it be in the library, in their gifted program, or with Project Lead the Way,” said Gale Croft, Executive Director

South Baldwin Chamber Foundation. “Now that we’re getting started and now that we have this component in every school, we’ll be able to expand it. That’s why it’s so important that our members of the community donate towards the teacher/student grants, is so we can expand projects like this. One of the things we’re trying to do at the foundation is to bring the schools and principals together, so that they can feed off one another and so that they can have some continuity between the schools.”

Thomas Thorjusen, the technology teacher at Foley High School, states that robotics programs are growing in numbers steadily, and with this grant award the teachers now have a better opportunity to teach more kids the importance of technology.

“The jobs that are taught in STEM classes, such as computer sciences, are probably growing at double the rate of everything else,” Thorjusen said. “We want to show kids that robotics is fun, give them an idea of what math and science are all about.”

The robotics program introduces kids to computer programming and coding, along with the skills they need to brainstorm and execute the building of a robot.

“Our job in robotics is to get kids interested at a very early age, we’re working our way all the way to the intermediate and elementary schools and trying to build up robotics as a sport to create motivation,” said Thorjusen. “It’s fun, but on top of that you’re learning valuable skills.”

Each year, multiple robotics competitions take place throughout the nation, with the largest being the VEX Robotics Competition where you can find approximately 20 thousand robotics teams from all over the globe competing. VEX creates “games” for the teams to play, each team responsible for building their own robot which they will then control to win the game. The games are different each year, and the students in Thorjusen’s class are already hard at work brainstorming ideas and solving problems to create a winning robot.

“The high school just signed up ten registered teams, which will be around 40 to 60 kids,” said Thorjusen. The one downfall he’s seen so far is that kids in Northern Alabama have access to more competitions, giving them the ability to compete in up to six qualifying events to put them in a spot at VEX, something that kids in the Gulf Coast don’t have.

“We’re planning to take day trips to a few qualifying events close by, and we’re looking to host some here as well, to get a couple of kids seated in the championship,” Thorjusen said.

To learn more about the South Baldwin Chamber Foundation, visit their page on the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce’s website: www.SouthBaldwinChamber.com.