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Henley Expands Robotics to Elementary and Middle School Students

Henley Elementary School sixth-grader Makayla Schroeder uses a controller to carefully maneuver a robot onto a cardboard ramp. Across campus at Henley Middle School, eighth-grader Dylan Orr peers into the inner workings of a VEX robot as his team discusses its next steps.

Makayla and Dylan are members of inaugural after-school robotics clubs started this fall by Henley High School seniors and chief science officers Bo James and Andrew Edwards.  Chief science officers are high school students who promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities.

A Henley Elementary School Robotics Club member Dylan DeLonge watches and provides direction while another club member practices driving a robot over a ramp.

Edwards co-leads the middle school group with senior Alex Welles and Henley Middle School teacher and club advisor Maria Whittemore. James leads the new elementary club with help from Henley High Robotics Club members Kaleb Smith, Adam Campbell, Macey Landry, Caleb Nejely, Kaylee Haddox, and David Serrano.

“As a chief science officer, I thought it would be really cool if kids got exposed to STEM at a really young age … and I realized I could help them do that through robotics,” James said. “If they can get involved in fifth and sixth grade, and continue in middle school, by the time they get to the high school they will have been exposed to robotics for nearly four years.”

Henley Elementary School Robotics Club members practice driving robots during a recent meeting.

Dylan and his teammates, during a meeting in December, were deep in discussion about detailed revisions.

“We are trying to get our mechanisms to actually work, and we had to upgrade some of our axels,” he explained. “Our gears were slipping and weren’t really working.”

Henley Middle School Robotics Club member Ethan Bissell works with one of the club’s co-leaders, Henley High School senior Andrew Edwards.

Dylan took a robotics class in seventh-grade, but the club takes the skills he learned to a different level. “In the club, you only build one robot and you compete with that robot,” he said, adding that he plans to continue robotics competitively in high school.

For Makayla, the club is a chance to learn new skills and “build stuff.” She wants to be a veterinarian.

Henley Middle School Robotics Club members Theron Tyler, Alexia Warmke and Dylan Orr work on their robot.

“I’m kind of into fixing stuff up at home,” she said. “We redid our whole house, and I had the chance to help my dad with a lot of it, and I’m very interested.”

To start the teams, James and Edwards had to acquire funding – each VEX robotics kit costs $1,200 – and each team needs a kit. Once the kits are purchased, they can be reused in the following years. In addition to kits, individual parts are purchased as needed.

James was able to accept 16 students into the elementary club out of the 31 who applied, ordering one kit with a grant from the CSO (Chief Science Officers) organization and Southern Oregon Education Service District. The other two kits were purchased with money fundraised by the high school engineering program. Students were chosen based on their application and a recommendation from a teacher.

“It’s just the funds that prevent us from expanding,” Edwards said. “I hope to see as many teams as there are at the high school.”

The Henley High Robotics Club currently has seven competitive teams, and James and Edwards are on a team that is leading in the local KCSD League standings.

Kristi Lebkowsky, an engineering and aerospace teacher at Henley High School, is advisor to the high school club and started the robotics classes at the middle school several year ago. Edwards was in her class as a seventh-grader.

She is hoping that middle school robotics can expand to schools throughout the Klamath County School District. Currently Henley and Bonanza both offer robotics clubs for seventh- and eighth-graders.

Edward and Welles are motivated in part by the potential of future success for the current middle school club members.

“When they go into high school, they’re going to have a giant head start,” Edwards said. “It is incredibly valuable to already have this experience under their belts. These robots,” he said, motioning to the two 8th-grade teams, “can easily compete with high school team robots.” Welles agreed.

“We want them to understand how these robots work,” he said. “What the engineering processes are that they can use to solve problems. This also gets their foot in the doors with coding, which is very important for loads of careers in today’s world.”

Lebkowsky is pleased to see robotics growing because of the passion of current high school robotics club members to provide opportunities for younger students.

“That’s what is so inspiring,” she said. “They see the true value in it, and want to share their knowledge and give their time so younger students can have even more enriching experiences than they had.”

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