Robotics, it’s not what you think it is.
Each year for the past seven, my husband and I have worked with a small group of middle school students ages 11 through 14 in an after school program like no other. We gathered together for a few hours each week in the fall to do the impossible – build a working robot out of virtually nothing to compete in BEST Robotics. I can’t say it’s easy because it really isn’t. We never have enough time, talent, money or adults, frankly, and there’s much more to it than building a robot. Every year about half way through the season I say to him, “this is our last year”, and every year we start again with another group of eager kids excited to conquer the world.
Two of our sons have been involved in the program for most of the years we’ve mentored the team. No doubt this is why we’ve been so dedicated year after year. I have tried to write down what the experience is like but find myself short of words. It’s a bit like Christmas morning as one reflects on the hours of decision making and sale seeking that landed just the perfect gifts beneath the tree. A few hours of joy and nostalgic memories make the effort worthwhile. This year, watching our last son complete the program is bitter sweet, like the last Christmas before your child leaves home.
This year our team advanced to what was truly the greatest learning opportunity of my life as a mentor and teacher. It was also when I discovered my team no longer needed me. I prepared them to be fearless in the face of 3,000 onlookers, to think on their feet, and make decisions as a team – without our help – and that’s exactly what they did. They flew solo as my husband and I stood by, beaming with joy for them. We didn’t need to do anything but cheer. They overcame every obstacle, solved every problem, and did so without any adult supervision.
The South’s BEST (Boosting Engineering Science & Technology) competition at Auburn University in Alabama was the culmination of everything right in education. Kids working together, partnering with other teams, being helpful and seeking guidance from those more experienced is we witnessed. Every aspect of their education was evident as they analyzed, tested, communicated, and overcame failure during the competition. They demonstrated mastery of the most important parts of their educations.
In just a few hours these kids changed from being followers to leaders. At the end of the weekend they walked away as if they has won, even though they hadn’t. Their spirits soared high because they made it there; an achievement hundreds of other teams had failed to do.
I can say with great certainty that volunteering to mentor kids changes who you are and who they become. For years I have watched children join our team and young men and women emerge only a few months later. It’s a sight worth seeing and a blessing for all of us. I am hopeful that all who read this post will look for an opportunity to volunteer. It’s worth it.