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Gainesville schools may expand engineering education
Middle school has feeder robotics program
Gainesville High Robotic Alliance members Laramy Head, left, and Joshua Robinson speak Monday at the Gainesville City Schools board meeting about their recent robotic competition.

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The official groundbreaking ceremony for the new Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School will be Jan. 16.

Building robots is more than just a hobby for students in Gainesville.

It's the city school system's first steps toward revolutionizing engineering education.

School board members at their Monday meeting discussed implementing a new initiative, the Remote Automation Management Project, at Gainesville High School.

The project, if approved, will connect students in Steve Lawhorne's engineering and technology class at Gainesville High to troubleshooting experts at a centralized command center. Experts will be able to see students via camera and help them solve problems and learn how to use new technology.

"I didn't really realize it, but Gainesville is considered the manufacturing center of Georgia," Lawhorne said. "Lanier Tech already wants to articulate and dual enroll with us. They just worked out an articulation agreement with Southern Polytechnic and they're wanting us to have a seamless path of students to go from high school to Lanier Tech to Southern Polytechnic either on the engineering track or the robotics technical track, and that's exciting."

The project was met with positive feedback from board members, though some expressed concern over funding. More information regarding grant money and school board budget requirements will be presented at a future board meeting.

The remote automation project is one of several ways Gainesville schools are promoting increased interest in science, mathematics, engineering and technology.

This was the first year Gainesville High School had a Robotics Alliance, spearheaded by junior Joshua Robinson, 16. The alliance has already participated in several competitions.

"They put in from 4 to 7 or 8 (p.m.) after school," said Dave Head, one of the alliance's advisers. "The competitions are very exciting and intense. They get down there and want to win and they want to help each other out."

The Robotics Alliance, though only in its infancy, already has a feeder program: the Robopachyderms robotics team at Gainesville Middle School.

The Robopachyderms won third place in the regional LEGO Food Factor Challenge on Dec. 10 in Lawrenceville, a high enough position to qualify them for super-regionals in January.

"It's really unusual for a rookie team to even qualify for the super-regionals," said Dawn Watkins, a talent development specialist at Gainesville Middle who oversees the team.

The LEGO competition has four components. There's a robot game with challenges related to food safety; core values about teamwork and gracious professionalism; a research project on a food safety topic; and a technical design interview process.

"These children are working in our enhancement period, which is like a homeroom," Watkins said. "We're hoping it's going to feed into (the high school alliance). The eighth-graders we're sending them cannot be beat. They'll go to the high school with a nice base of programming and the engineering principles: design it, test it, debug it, test it again."

Sisters Pramoda and Pratyusha Karnati, 13 and 11, respectively, are both on the middle school team.

"We love engineering and anything involved in that," Pratyusha Karnati, a seventh-grader, said. "It's amazing they're actually starting this in seventh grade and some schools are starting in elementary school."

Gainesville Middle Principal Ken Martin was able to watch the technical design interviews during Saturday's competition.

"It's amazing how much they're able to describe in detail," Martin said. "I took my children to watch and now they're asking for a robot for Christmas."