Fairfax High School sophomore Kiran Ashok and junior Ronit Manchanda had some things in common. The two were marketing students and members of the Fairfax HS DECA marketing club and the robotics team. What started as a DECA project quickly developed into much more. They felt elementary students in the Fairfax HS pyramid would benefit from a robotics program designed for their age group. The students found the perfect partner at FIRST®, a non-profit international group that helps kids ages 4-18 compete and explore robotics. They launched a non-profit organization FIRST for Youth, a group of high school student volunteers who meet with students at Daniels Run ES and Providence ES to introduce students to robotics.
Ronit and Kiran raised money to purchase LEGO® SPIKE kits to work with the elementary students. They created a twelve-week program for elementary students to focus on the fundamentals of engineering as students learn to design and code to create solutions made with LEGO® bricks. The two high schoolers, along with other student volunteers, now lead weekly after school programs at both Providence ES and Daniels Run ES. The teams work toward a festival event in May where the students will exhibit their team models, posters and share what they have learned with other schools, volunteers, and family.
“We didn’t feel like we had a lot of opportunities as elementary students to learn more about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math) and so we thought this was a good chance for us to provide that for future FHS students,” said Kiran. “It is really fun to work with the younger kids and they get so excited to build and compete.”
First for Youth is not only beneficial for the elementary students. Ronit wants it to be a positive experience for Fairfax HS student volunteers too. “You don’t have to be an expert in robotics to volunteer with us, you can just really like working with kids and we can teach you the material. It is really fun to be around the younger kids and I think the Fairfax HS kids get just as much out of it as the younger kids do.”
“The First for Youth students worked with our First Lego League teams in order to spread STEAM opportunities within the community where they live,” said Heather Whitis, the STEAM teacher at Providence Elementary School. “Ronit, Kiran and their team worked as mentors and helped lead our Lego League meetings teaching students about the core values of First Lego League, encouraging students as they learned to code and by sharing their passion for STEM.”
The lessons for the students go beyond just STEM. “Robotics is a great subject for young kids,” said Kiran. “It teaches you how to gain real world skills such as teamwork, collaboration, and it even teaches you how to fail. You must keep trying to get it right.”
The students celebrated on Sunday, May 13 with a festival with other schools. “The students were really happy to receive the awards and to see all the other teams and their models,” said Ronit.
For Ronit and Kiran, the project was recognized and placed in the top 20 in the DECA International Career Development Conference in Orlando, Florida and they have presented their club to local groups such as the Dulles Chamber of Commerce.
To learn more about First For Youth, see their website or follow on Instagram @firstforyouth