By Dana Schallheim
AACPS Board of Education, District 5
Beyond lengthy discussion and voting on Fiscal Year 2020 budget amendments covering topics from teacher make-up steps to 21st century wireless infrastructure, the Board of Education considered a tiny budget amendment that leveled the playing field for our students interested in robotics. Aptly named Robotics for All by the dozen or more students who attended the February 25 Anne Arundel County Public Schools Board of Education meeting, Amendment 52 set up a recurring pool of $40,000 aimed to create or expand robotics-centered, high school-sponsored clubs countywide. Until now, only two high school clubs, South River and Chesapeake, were supported by the school system beyond standard teacher stipends.
Robotics is one area under the STEM umbrella that has taken off in recent years and created opportunities unrivaled by other areas of study. Encompassing every component of STEM, participation on a robotics team also builds soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving, and leadership. Students who participate on a competitive robotics team at any level can earn millions of dollars in college scholarships, putting them on a track for cutting-edge careers in the field. For teams that compete at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) level, that figure can reach up to $80,000,000 in scholarships and career opportunities.
Building just one robot can cost thousands. Adding development costs coupled with entry fees, travel and uniform expenses, some clubs can spend upward of $20,000 per year. Because of the high costs involved with participating on a competitive robotics club, some high school clubs have become 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and regularly fundraise, including soliciting local businesses for sponsorship. At Broadneck High School, students are involved in all aspects of their robotics club including its administration and fundraising. The Robotics for All amendment will take some of the fundraising burden off students at Broadneck and other high schools, allowing students to purchase supplies, build robots and enter competitions quicker.
I am delighted that my colleagues on the board joined me in taking this first important step to create tech equity for all it students, living up to its mantra that “all means all.” I can’t wait to see this money distributed and to witness our students’ successes in robotics.
An application process to access these funds is forthcoming and will be developed by the AACPS superintendent, Dr. George Arlotto, and his staff.