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Robotics Programs to Grow in Rural Arizona With Private Grant

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A collection of rural schools in Arizona is getting extra support for STEM learning outside the regular school day with a grant for robotics clubs.

The Science Foundation Arizona, a Phoenix-based nonprofit, awarded the $250,000 for robotics programs this month as part of the organization's Rural and Remote Initiative. The private funds will support 15 high school robotics clubs—eight new and seven existing ones—as well as their participation in the 2014 and 2015 annual FIRST Robotics competitions.

Through the initiative, students will participate in a team robot-building project, culminating in a competition at the end of the year. The grant agreement stipulates that veteran teams will help mentor the new teams benefitting from the grant. By the end of the three-year span of the grant, each of the new teams will mentor another rural Arizona robotics club, to help grow and sustain the program.

Students that participate on a FIRST team won't just have the opportunity to enhance their STEM education—they will also be eligible to apply for more than $16 million in scholarship opportunities.

The grant is the result of Science Foundation Arizona's May 2013 Rural and Remote Education Needs Survey, conducted through the Arizona Department of Education. In that survey, educators identified as a priority the need to increase after-school science, math, and robotics clubs and programs.

Science education is an area that continues to plague Arizona's rural schools, according to azcentral.com. According to the survey, many educators reported that their schools' science textbooks hadn't been updated for a decade or more and that the schools lacked the necessary equipment for science labs.

Why this scarcity is so distinct in the state's rural schools, though, remains a question, since state public-school funding is distributed to account for higher costs, such as higher transportation costs, in rural areas.

The new grant for robotics programs come as engineering is making increased inroads into the K-12 sphere, as Education Week recently highlighted. In fact, that story notes several examples focused on robotics. And in August, we blogged about some new STEM-focused grants, with many of them focused on out-of-school experiences, such as a robotics program for Girl Scouts.

Meanwhile, the Burns & McDonnell Foundation recently launched a Battle of the Brains in Kansas City, Mo. In this competition, thousands of students are given the opportunity to work with engineers to compete for $155,000 in grants.

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