- Dougherty County School System
DCSS Finding Success With Expanded Robotics/STEM Opportunities for Students
Albany, Ga. - Hovering among the large, table-top robotics courses, eagerly watching groups of elementary students prepare for their chance to navigate a robot around the miniature obstacles is Dr. Michelle Bergozza.
Recently, Bergozza got to enjoy the fruits of her considerable labor; organizing, preparing and executing a sanctioned regional robotics competition for elementary school students across Southwest Georgia at Monroe Comprehensive High School.
The Dougherty County School System’s Elementary Science content coordinator has been working with FIRST Lego League, one of the nation’s largest educational robotics organizations, to get elementary students the supplies and support they need to compete, arrange training, and myriad other duties related to the district’s blossoming robotics programs.
“It’s really exciting to see,” Bergozza said. “Just a few years ago, elementary robotics wasn’t a thing in the district. Now we have students at each of our schools not only learning about robotics, but also being exposed to all of the other facets of FIRST robotics and competitions.”
Those other facets Bergozza is referencing include life skills such as teamwork and what FIRST refers to as “coopertition,” where students and teams learn to assist each other while maintaining a competitive spirit. In addition to building and programming the Lego bots themselves, students also must put together a presentation to solve a real-world problem based on the robot game theme.
“There’s a lot more going on here than just pure robotics,” Dougherty County School System Superintendent Kenneth Dyer said. “The STEM component is important and a critical part of this program, but we also want students to walk away with some of the ‘life skills’ that will aid them as they prepare for the next level at either a college or technical school or entering the workforce.”
The DCSS robotics program has expanded exponentially over the past few years. In 2014, the district had only two robotics teams across the entire slate of 24 schools. Today, all three high schools, all four middle schools and each of the 14 elementary schools have competitive robotics teams.
For Dyer, it’s more than just about the competition, it’s an important part of his overall vision for how to improve generational outcomes and prosperity for Southwest Georgia.
“If we can manage to get kids excited about science, engineering, coding and computer science at a young age, the data shows that they are more likely to develop the skills employers in the modern workforce are looking for; so, we’re laying the foundation upon which students can build a prosperous future. We see this as a significant investment in developing a talent pool of highly-skilled employees that will ultimately lift up the entire region.”
It’s a strategy that the district is investing considerable amounts of time and funds into and it appears to be working.
Prior to the pandemic, Albany regularly played host to high school robotics teams from around the state through annual FIRST Robotics Competitions. While that’s been curtailed since the onset of COVID-19, the robotics programs continue to compete and find success.
4C Academy, for instance, had robotics teams that won several awards including the overall top prize at a July 2021 competition in Dahlonega. In 2019, the 4C Robotics team traveled to Houston, Texas after being invited to compete in FIRST’s International Robotics Championship.
Back at the elementary robotics competition, Lake Park Elementary took home the overall championship, with teams from Sherwood Acres Elementary, Morningside Elementary, Turner Elementary and Alice Coachman Elementary each winning awards. They advanced to the super regionals in Columbus.
Lake Park Principal, Dr. Trina Bush, said that the school’s robotics program is truly a team sport.
“Enthusiasm and team spirit are at the core of the success of the Lake Park Robotics Team. They absolutely love robotics and they love when their teammates succeed. Not only do they encourage each other, but they also encourage other teams during competition,” Bush said. “I am extremely proud of our robotics team.”
At Alice Coachman, a school with a budding robotics program, Principal Dr. Anita Mathis beams about the success her students have found.
"We're extremely proud of our students and teachers who have really taken this robotics program to new levels," Mathis said. "Having exposure to these kinds of opportunities at an early age aligns with our core mission here at Alice Coachman and I see this program growing in the future."
In addition to its robotics program, the district is exploring new partnerships with industry leaders and educational technology companies that will further advance STEM opportunities for students. Those partnerships will likely be unveiled later this year.