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Afterschool Robotics Program encourages STEM learning

Afterschool Robotics Program encourages STEM learning

Through additional funding made possible by the Mount Vernon Educational Foundation (MVEF), 25 students in the Afterschool Robotics Program at Benjamin Turner Middle School have built VEX robots and learned to program and code them to perform in weekly competitions with peers.  

“I really like challenging myself and learning new things,” said Jelani Burgess, Sixth-Grade Student at BTMS. “This program has taught me so much about robotics and technology.” 

“STEM learning is important for all students’ futures,” said Dr. K. Veronica Smith, Acting Superintendent of Schools. “The district recognizes that technology is advancing faster than ever and providing our scholars with opportunities to expand their knowledge and critical thinking skills is essential.”  

Student sits on knees while programming robot.

The MVEF hopes to raise about $70,000 to bring this program to all middle schoolers in the district. Cecil H. Parker, Hamilton, Lincoln, Nelson Mandela/Dr. Hosea Zollicoffer, Pennington and Denzel Washington School of the Arts – will start their programs in the Fall of 2023; followed by Graham, Grimes, Mount Vernon Honor Academy, Mount Vernon Leadership Academy, Traphagen and Williams, which will start in the Fall of 2024.  

The foundation’s goal is to work with the Mount Vernon City School District to improve students’ access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning. This will inadvertently improve student performance on NYSED grade 6-8 science and math assessments and increase enrollment into Mount Vernon STEAM Academy.  

“We want to expand the students’ learning experiences outside the classroom in order to expand their awareness of opportunities and incorporate these new concepts into new possibilities for their future,” said Eileen Justino, president of the MVEF. “We want to broaden the student’s horizons and open the door for greater potential in their lives.” 

“This program is way more hands-on than anything we learn in class,” said Anais Davenport, Fifth-Grade Student at BTMS. “I want to be a social security analyst and now I have more of an understanding of how technology works.”  

There is a growing need to enhance STEM learning in classrooms and is especially prevalent at the elementary and middle school levels. There is a call for integrated learning programs that allow teachers to engage students in creative and meaningful ways, while also meeting today's rigorous academic standards.  

Students work together on robotics.

“Research stresses the importance of this hands-on learning as an important way to spark interest in critical and fast-growing STEM fields,” said Dr. Satish Jagnandan, Director of STEAM. “The Mount Vernon City School District’s shared goal is to give more students access to the high-quality STEM learning they’ll need to succeed. We have learned that STEM education is most successful when students develop personal connections to specific STEM activities and the associated academic fields and that both formal (courses or integrated content) and informal (afterschool and summer programs) opportunities can support such experiences.” 

Students in the program have taken learning to a new level by incorporating teamwork, communication, and critical thinking.  
“We are learning to code the robot to play tug-of-war against another robot,” said Timari Jenkins, Sixth-Grade Student at BTMS. “My favorite part of this program so far is driving the robot.”  

This afterschool program, which meets weekly, began on Tuesday, January 31, 2023, and finishes on June 23, 2023 BTMS has piloted the program because it is a community school, with resources to stay open later in the evening. In the upcoming years, this after-school program will take place throughout the entire school year, concluding with students participating in competitions against other schools. This program is open to students of all abilities, including students with disabilities.  

Throughout this program, students learn to build these VEX robots from scratch and learn to code them to move any which way. VEX robots are interactive, programmable robots that create hands-on experiences for students. They are educational robotics for everyone. VEX solutions span all formal and informal education levels with accessible, scalable, and affordable solutions. Beyond science and engineering principles, VEX encourages creativity, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving among groups. Each week a new lesson is introduced that builds off the previous week.  

Students move robot.

“We actually built the robots,” said Layla Humphrey, sixth-grade student at BTMS. “They were in pieces when we started this program and now we are able to code it to do what we want.”  

“If you are interested in coding and you like building things, you will really enjoy this program,” added Layla. 

“I really enjoy doing the challenges, which happens at the end of class each week and I like doing it while hanging with my friends,” said Dash Bess, Sixth-Grade Student at BTMS. “It’s really cool to see how far the robots have come since we started.”  

According to, “familiarizing students with programming, sensors, and automation, they hone critical computational thinking skills needed to succeed in both the 21st century's workforce and in everyday life.” 
“Technology is advancing every day and I know it will be useful to know all these things in my future,” added Dash. 

“Students are really enjoying the club,” said Katherine Olson, Fifth-Grade Teacher at BTMS and instructor for the program. “Tuesdays have quickly become their favorite day of the week and it has been so fun watching their determination and creativity each week.” 

The MVEF hosted a fundraiser in the fall of 2022 that raised over $20,000 to begin this initiative. Each VEX IQ Classroom bundle (one per school) costs $5,000 and can be used year after year as it does not become obsolete. If necessary, the district has the option to add modules in the future. Teachers take a 13-hour course to facilitate the program. The foundation funds these training modules. 

The Mount Vernon Educational Foundation has played a key role in many programs. Most recently during the pandemic, the MVEF raised over $35,000 to provide laptops for students as they navigated at-home learning. 
Learn more about the MVEF and make direct donations to help fund the afterschool robotics program at  
“We are extremely excited to know that there are so many students eager to participate, and we are looking forward to providing this opportunity across the school district,” said Justino.   

Students work together to program and code their robot.
Two students work together while programming robot.


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