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New club to expand STEM opportunities for students

Sept. 15, 2023

Beginning this fall, New Hartford Central School District students will have the opportunity to engage in a hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-based learning program.

The district’s newly established FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Challenge Club will expose students to real-world problem-solving experiences through a guided robotics program.

FLL Challenge is a competition organized by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an international not-for-profit organization whose mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, according to its website.

The district’s 2023-28 Strategic Plan, adopted in February 2023, includes a focus on increasing the percentage of students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) and STEM courses.

Open to students in grades 5 through 8 across the district, FLL Challenge Club participants will learn coding to program a robot to complete various tasks. In addition, they will research a central question, identify a solution, connect with experts in the field and present what they have learned and designed. Students will also have the chance to join a team to compete in a FIRST-sponsored regional competition.

Club advisors Tina Malara, a first grade teacher at Bradley Elementary School, and Tammy Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at Myles Elementary School, expect to hold the first club meeting in October.

“At the elementary level, there are limited opportunities for students who do not have traditional interests, such as sports or Girl/Boy Scouts. This program will offer social and STEM opportunities for all participating students, even if they have no experience with coding and building,” Malara said.

The after-school club plans to meet at the Senior High School twice a month through the spring for a total of 12 sessions. For the club’s inaugural year, approximately 24 students will be able to join.

“We hope to organize an end of the year exhibit to showcase club members' work in the spring,” Malara said. “We’re also excited about the possibility of expanding the program to early elementary, junior high and senior high school students in the future.”