Building Blocks

Tenley Rooney
Students mentor local junior high school students in an after-school robotics program
It’s late afternoon when a loud cheer goes up from the center of the Kwok Engineering Lab. Several St. Paul's students and smaller versions of themselves from nearby Rundlett Middle School are huddled around a large game board. A robot they constructed from Legos has just completed the start, stop, and turns they programmed it to do. This completed mission is part of their FIRST Lego League.
The league is an offshoot of the popular FIRST Robotics program, the international competition designed to promote youth interest in STEM-related fields. But the partnership between SPS students and their young charges from Rundlett, through Concord’s 21st Century Community Center after-school program, reaches beyond the scope of inspiring future scientists and engineers. “It’s not about the robot,” notes adviser Terry Wardrop ’73. “It’s about the mentoring relationship.”
Fifth Former Varun Reddy is one of five SPS students working alongside the 12 boys and girls who visit the lab each week for Lego League. “It’s fun to see the kids have that a-ha moment,” said Reddy. “Helping them work through things is really fun. When they hit a roadblock, we are there to give them a little nudge.”
Their mentees return the compliment. “My favorite thing has been working with my group,” said one Rundlett student. “(The mentors) are closer to our age. They understand our thinking and the kinds of questions we might have.”
Mentorship is part of the School’s engaged citizenship initiative that expands the community service requirement into an in-depth and intentional experience for students. In addition to their in-person work, participants must also meet for planning and reflection sessions. The Lego League is one of three programs the School is piloting this year. Students are also collaborating with Rundlett Middle School pupils on a range of other afterschool projects. This enrichment program will expand to include elementary-aged students from the Mill Brook School in Concord in the spring.