There was nothing robotic about this robo camp

After Rhinebeck Central School District employee Meg Tedisco’s son attended a residential on-campus summer program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, she reached out to school board member Dean Vallas to determine the feasibility of bringing such a program to Rhinebeck.

Vallas suggested that the idea be presented to the Rhinebeck Science Foundation to see if they could help facilitate a coordinated effort to benefit local students. The foundation creates and fund programs that combine hands-on learning with innovative teaching to help students connect science, math, engineering and technology to their daily lives.

Enter Johnny LeHane, RSF Secretary who has become lead project coordinator for the RP Lego Robotics Academy at Rhinebeck.

LeHane presented the RPI program concept to the Frost Foundation, a private organization that awards grants to non-profit organizations, with particular attention to charities in the Village and Town of Rhinebeck. And the RSF was awarded a one-time $12,000 grant, which reduced the cost of attending the camp from $500 to $275 a student, and it also provided four needs-based scholarships to qualifying students.

This summer marked the first time that the academy camp was held at the Starr Library for two weeks, starting July 30. The daily sessions were divided by age, with 24 8-10 year olds attending the morning Junior Lego Robotics Academy where they used Lego Mindstorm technology and Robolab, an iconic programming language, to construct and program basic robotic structures. The 16 11-14 year olds who attended the afternoon Lego NXT Robotics Academy used the LEGO NXT technology to design, construct and program robotic solutions to complex engineering challenges.

The intent, according to RPI, is that “students leave with an understanding of the relationships and common themes that connect mathematics, science and technology, and are able to integrate these principles into their everyday life.”

The program concluded with students presenting their work to parents at the “Lego Robotics Circus” which was held at Starr Library on August 10.

Starr Library Director Steven Cook was delighted with the program. “Starr Library is thrilled to participate in this,” he said. “Our mission is to serve the community and this is an innovative way to do that. It is especially important to us to reach out to youth and teens, and this is a unique intersection of technology and the library.”

The RPI program has donated two Lego Robotics Kits to the library, as a resource for the community. LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT is the second generation of robotics products from The LEGO Group. Students can use the kits to build and program a working robo that reacts to light, sound, touch, etc.

LeHane, whose daughter, Riley, participated in the camp, said, “Our hope is that students will be able to ‘check out’ the robot kits to complete their own projects, building on experience they have had at the RPI Lego Academy in Rhinebeck or that they have had in the classroom.”

What makes this program special is that the Lego Robotics Academy at Rhinebeck is the first time that RPI has worked in conjunction with a non-profit institution (RSF) .

RSF sees this program as a chance to impact the community across the board and perhaps inspire other foundations to look beyond traditional avenues for growth and expansion.

LeHane said he hoped the program can be repeated. “Efforts like these are an important part of RSF’s vision,” he said. “We continue to focus on curricular activities in the Rhinebeck schools as the core of our mission, but partnerships with organizations like RPI and The Frost Memorial Fund help pave the way for creative approaches to providing Rhinebeck students world class educational opportunities.”

RPI, located 70 miles north of Rhinebeck, is America’s oldest technological research university. The school hosts on-campus and off-site summer programs for elementary through high school aged students.

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