Clarksdale Schools Fields a Competitive Robotics Team
The importance of digital literacy, including coding and programming skills, is becoming more essential to obtaining high-paying jobs. These skills have become standard requirements even beyond traditional STEAM jobs. Yet, many school districts are struggling to help students develop these skills due to a lack of resources.
The challenge of teaching career readiness skills is felt even more in underserved districts. The students in these districts already have fewer opportunities, so they’re at risk of being completely unprepared for modern careers if their schools don’t receive the necessary funding.
Clarksdale Municipal School District faced this challenge. However, through its partnership with Schneider Electric, the district was able to break free from its funding shortfalls and provide its students with a thriving STEAM program.
Taking the first step to implementing a vision
Clarksdale Municipal School District is located in the Delta region of Mississippi and has around 2,200 students across nine schools. Nearly 42% of the residents in this rural area live below the poverty line. The school district was historically low-performing, particularly in math and science.
That’s why Joe Greenberg, a science teacher in the Clarksdale Municipal School District, was desperate to develop a robotics team and augment STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) learning at the local high school.
Robotics is a great way to introduce programming and coding to students. Clarksdale’s Superintendent Dr. Toya Harrell-Matthews wanted to invigorate STEAM learning at the high school and believed Mr. Greenberg could make the vision a reality.
However, Greenberg needed guidance as he had never participated in school robotics competitions before. The district also needed funding for, among other things, purchasing the needed materials for a VEX Robotics class. (VEX Robotics provides educational and competitive robotics products to school robotics teams around the world. VEX also developed a curriculum around educational robotics which they believe “…helps students feel a sense of autonomy, capability and relatedness.”)
When Schneider learned of Clarksdale’s goal, they stepped in and provided the equipment the district needed to move forward with creating two robotics teams. Plus, Shawn Johnson, a Senior Performance Assurance Consultant at Schneider Electric who is passionate about robotics, met with Mr. Greenberg on multiple occasions to coach him on how to prepare for VEX competitions.
Creating funding streams to ensure the viability of programs
Clarksdale Municipal School District’s needs extended beyond a robotics program. The district faced funding challenges that made it difficult to keep their facilities operational and comfortable, but the superintendent was determined to invest in modernizing school facilities and stabilizing operating budgets.
In addition to collaboration on the robotics club, the district turned to Schneider Electric to help them develop a multi-phase strategic capital improvement plan to streamline operations, reduce costs, and implement enhanced educational programming.
Fortunately, the federal government delivered Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars at the same time. Because the one-time influx of funds was insufficient to meet the needs that were part of the plan, Schneider worked with the district to find additional funding sources and develop the Clarksdale ONE vision.
Clarksdale ONE is a three-phase project designed to maximize energy and operational savings funds so the funds could be reinvested in further modernization and student programming. The district is realizing nearly $68,000 in savings per year, or $1.8 million over 20 years which they are using to update the facilities.
Clarksdale has a successful robotics team
With the new funding streams, the district has been able to launch an AMPLIFY STEM program that includes career exploration, hands-on learning, and robotics team sponsorship. Students across the district have become engaged in the program and are enjoying the new technology and hands-on learning.
The dream of the robotics team has become a reality, and the team has made tremendous strides in a short time. In their first competition in 2021, two Clarksdale students ranked in the top 50 globally for virtual robotics.
Underserved and low-performing school districts face great challenges. Educators and administrators are striving to provide their students with marketable skills that are valuable in every industry. Clarksdale Municipal School District overcame the challenges and is fulfilling the vision of its superintendent. The district’s improved facilities, increased STEAM opportunities, and successful robotics team are points of pride for the entire community. Best of all, engaged students are gaining real-world skills so they are career ready.