Winning robotics program to expand to elementary schools with the help of Spark grants

Burrillville High School Junior Zachary Lawton works with robotics through the school's engineering program.

BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville School district’s popular robotics program will soon be open to elementary school students, thanks to grants from the Rhode Island Foundation.

The district was recently awarded a total of five Spark grants adding up to roughly $5,000.

The money will be used to purchase three VEX Robotics kits at a cost of $840 a piece. Two will be delivered to Callahan Elementary School to set up a new after-school robotics club there, and the third will be brought to Steere Farm Elementary.

Clubs at both schools are scheduled to begin meeting by late February, and run for around four weeks, leading up to a district-wide robotics competition mirroring the annual state contest.

The high school and middle school already offer robotics, and since the program launched in 2006, the students have won 11 state titles.

Supt. Michael Sollitto said he wanted to wait until after that contest to launch robotics for the younger students, so that the older kids give can give a presentation showing just what a robot can be programmed to do with a little experience. 

“I think after the kids see that they’ll be very excited,” he said.

Additional funds from the grants will be dedicate to classroom initiatives at Callahan, including the annual trip to Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, according to Principal David Brissette.

The money will also be used for another unique technology-focused project at the elementary school. Brissette noted that students are using computer animation to recreate Walt Disney’s head, and using a mosaic program to make it talk.

The district, unfortunately, will not take part in the state robotics competition this year, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 9. The 2019 competition saw BHS with a loss in the qualifying round.

Sollitto noted that the town’s first “Robotics Night,” will be held at Burrillville High School in conjunction with an open house showcasing other school initiatives.

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