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Riveted By (Lego) Robotics

Count Quannell in as one of the Afterschool Adventure Club kids riveted by robotics.

Staunton Innovation Labs Inc., the non-profit arm of Staunton Innovation Hub often referred to as SILI, held its inaugural Lego Robotics Engineering Club meeting at the YMCA recently, and the first lesson was given rave reviews.

“It was pretty good,” said Quannell, a fifth-grader at Bessie Weller. “We get to build bridges and robots and lots of other cool stuff.”

The Staunton Innovation Hub was formed by Peter and Alison Denbigh. According to its website, the Staunton Innovation Hub exists “as a coworking space in the heart of Staunton VA’s Historic District designed to reduce barriers to innovation and help small businesses succeed.”

The idea for the Lego Robotics Engineering Club was birthed through the Denbighs watching their own child do something similar at James Madison University.

“Peter said, ‘This is something that I feel like our Staunton kids should have,’” said Miriam Burrows, strategic assistant to Peter Denbigh. “My son was talking about how they are learning a little bit of coding in second grade right now, and there are couple of kids in class that don’t have computers at home. I thought, ‘if we have a curriculum, and we have someone to teach, what we need is a bunch of kids that may not have access to this kind of education otherwise.”

To the SILI staff, a partnership with the YMCA made perfect sense.

“The YMCA is this great place where they have this great afterschool program,” Burrows said. “And we thought this may be the perfect audience for us for us to start a Lego Robotics Engineering Club.”

Taylor Welsh serves as instructor for the class.

“It’s awesome to play at home with Legos and that sort of thing,” Welsh said, “but what’s great about this program is we’re teaching kids who have zero coding experience a little bit about the basics of how to code, how to make a program on the computer, and we’re giving them some engineering challenges that they’re going to solve to get them inspired, and then also they’re going to be learning from each other and collaborating and a little bit competing, too.”

Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA youth and family director Ashley Cole loves the partnership with SILI.

“We’re lucky to have Taylor Welsh and the Staunton Innovation Hub provide this at no cost for our kids,” Cole said. “We really hope to offer more programs like this.”

Welsh agrees.

“Kids get interested in science and technology and engineering in a way that they are challenged,” Welsh said. “They’re getting to learn new things. They’re learning that it’s OK to make something that doesn’t work and try again.”

Watch the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA Lego Robotics program video here.

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