by Tyler Jones, AmeriCorps VISTA serving at City Year New Hampshire
One of City Year’s afterschool programs, FIRST LEGO League (FLL), allows students to gain firsthand experience with robotics, programming and other STEM concepts. The culminating event of their hard work is an expo where they have the opportunity to conduct research and complete tasks around a certain theme. This year’s theme was Trash Trek, and was focused on topics like pollution, recycling, sustainability and other waste-related issues. This was the 2nd annual FLL Expo that City Year New Hampshire helped to lead, and it was certainly a remarkable experience.
Manchester houses the national headquarters for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which meant that 60 students from the eight elementary schools City Year New Hampshire serves were able to visit and compete at the hub of FIRST’s innovation and progress. Not only was the expo an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they’d learned this year, it was also a chance for them to meet FLL teams from other schools in Manchester, as well as see what FIRST programs look like at the high school level.
Team 238, a FIRST Robotics Competition team at Memorial High School in Manchester, as well as FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) Team #9620 “The R.O.U.S.’s” (Robots of Unusual Size), each brought one of their robots in to provide the younger students with an opportunity to explore different kinds of robots and see what kinds of tasks they would work on if they decided to continue being a part of FIRST clubs. One student was particularly inspired by her older counterparts. “I want to be an engineer and build robots!” she proudly proclaimed. She was also inspired by the amount of women that are part of each team. “It’s nice to be able to talk to other girls about robots,” she said.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the event was seeing the pride that each student had for the work that their team had accomplished. Whether they were programming their robots or presenting their research, each team was confident and composed. “I liked being able to share what I learned,” said one student. “I learned that there’s a lot more uses for things than just throwing them out.”
The students also had a lot of supporters present. Not only were the City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps members who run each FLL team present, but two dozen parents and siblings were present to cheer them on. Additionally, members of the Manchester community, such as Board of School Committeeman Jimmy Lehoux, Board of School Committeeman Dan Bergeron, Deputy Director of the Manchester Health Department and Board Member of the Bean Foundation and Granite United Way Anna Thomas, University of New Hampshire STEM Discovery Lab Coordinator Emily Kerr and Bakersville Elementary School Principal Kathryn Josef, were in attendance, and were impressed with everything that the teams were doing. “It’s very in-step with what they’re doing in schools,” Bergeron said. “Everyone was excited and enthusiastic, which is so important because if they’re not excited, they’re not going to want to do it.”
As a culmination to the expo, each team received an award that epitomized their participation, such as Rising Stars, Inquiring Minds, Show(wo)manship and Solid as a Rock Model Design. These recognitions solidified the sportsmanship, teamwork and support that were central to both the day and all the work that had gone into making it happen. One student exclaimed “this was the best day of my life!” FIRST LEGO League is surely an experience that these young minds will not forget any time soon.