SVVSD HOSTS FIRST UNIFIED EVENT
Gathering makes popular program more accessible
St. Vrain Valley’s special education department collaborated with the Innovation Center to host the district’s first unified robotics event Tuesday.
The school district already offers unified music programs, unified physical education classes and unified sports. Tuesday’s event was an opportunity to make the district’s large robotics program more accessible, organizers said.
“We wanted an event just to experience what robotics is like,” said Alex Downing, St. Vrain’s competitive robotics program manager. “Robotics is for everyone. It’s engaging. It builds creativity.”
Unlike a typical robotics tournament, she said, the event also offered an environment that was less likely to overwhelm students with sensory issues.
“Robotics tournaments are so loud and chaotic,” she said. “We wanted a nice night where they could enjoy robotics.”
For the event, the Innovation Center’s robotics leadership team — 16 high school students who run district robotics tournaments — led students with disabilities through VEX robotics stations. Students could try building robots, programming them to go through a maze and driving them around a small arena.
Drew Hershey, a sophomore at Frederick High, worked through diagrams to successfully build a small robot, asking for an occasional tip from other high school students.
“It’s a thinking robot,” he said as he attached the “brain” piece to the bot. “It’s very interesting.”
His mom, Becky Hershey, said he’s already participating in unified percussion, band and sports and likes the format. Plus, she said, he likes hands-on activities, including building with Legos and operating remotecontrolled cars.
“I thought robotics would be a good thing for him to explore,” she said. “He could do things at his pace, and he could build something really cool.”
Erie High senior Talia Kumar encouraged a fifth grade girl with disabilities to find the needed pieces as they built a small robot together, then offered a fist bump after the younger girl used an ipad to drive it across a table.
“You’re getting good at this stuff,” Kumar said. “You built that. Good job.”
Kumar, a robotics leaders team member who is also in the P-TEACH program for aspiring teachers, is interested in assistive technology and special education. She said she also loves working as a robotics mentor and appreciates the resources offered by the VEX robotics program.
“VEX has worked really hard to make robotics accessible,” she said. “Like my teacher says, everything can be accessible. You just have to find the right way to teach it.”
The robotics leadership students said robotics isn’t just for those who are into programming, but also those who like to build or be part of a team.
“You gain a lot of teambuilding skills and social skills,” said Frederick High senior Ty Foster. “It’s more real world issues.”