By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Photos by: Joe Lumaya/Ventura County Star


Kids build robots in new class at Simi Valley Boys & Girls Club

October 22, 2014/Ventura County Star

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - Children ages 7 to 13 are building and programming robots in a new free class at the Simi Valley Boys & Girls Club.

“I want to make robot dragons for a living,” said Kayleigh Hewitt. “I’m really into electronics and robots ... because it’s really fun.”

The 9-year-old was among 16 youths who recently participated in the class offered on Fridays that involves building a robot with Lego Mindstorms EV3, a kit containing software and hardware to create customizable, programmable devices. The program, which began Oct. 6, was made possible through a $30,000 grant from Alcoa Fastening Systems and a $5,000 grant from Edison.

“The idea is to get kids excited about science and technology using robots,” said Tulasi Agina, of Simi Valley, a computer science engineer and course instructor.

“Whether they want to be a musician or a mathematician or a fashion designer, they’re going to learn technology and they’re going to use technology,” Agina said. “We would rather make technology their friend than be afraid.”

Studies show children who put effort in an area for 10 years can master the domain, Agina said.

“This is the new literacy,” he said.

The children worked in pairs Friday to program their robots to move back and forth.

“We’re also programming the sensor ... to stop right in front of an object,” said Evan Churilov, 13.

The teen signed up for the course because he wants to make video games for a living, he said.

“I’m really good in math,” he said.

The new offering supports the current emphasis on careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — said Sandee Covone, the club’s assistant executive director.

“This is a great opportunity for our kids to be exposed to different STEM programs, specifically robotics and specifically girls because we want girls to be interested in science and technology and engineering and math,” Covone said.

She said the club is grateful to Alcoa for giving children the opportunity.

“It’s the future of where we’re going with our jobs and our economy,” Covone said. “Our kids really need to know and pursue careers in STEM-related fields to keep this country competitive in the global marketplace.”

A major initiative for Alcoa is to educate youngsters with STEM skills, said Kevin Casey, of Simi Valley, Alcoa general manager.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to partner with the Boys & Girls Club and it’s exciting to watch the children ... getting exposure to it,” said Casey, who watched the children in action on Friday. “We hope it piques their interest when they’re young.”

Dyllan Marino, 9, felt proud when she programmed her robot to make the sound of a dog whine.

“I picked the dog one cause it sounds really cute and I have a dog who whines all the time and it reminds me of him,” the girl said. “Robotics are really interesting and it’s fun to learn about them and create things ... I’ve never made before.”

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