By B. J. Coleman
Technology advances apace. Where will the next generation of trained technological inventors and practitioners come from?
Downtown’s innovative e3 Civic High School teaches curricula designed to interest its young scholars to pursue professional careers in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) fields. One endeavor in that objective is the school’s annual staging of the Battle of the Bots, a competition in which the high schoolers serve as team captains for invited middle school students who vie to get pre-designed robots assembled and functioning.
This year’s Battle of the Bots was held on Feb. 9. Preparations for the event were well underway on Jan. 30, by learning facilitator Jeffrey Russert and the 14 scholars in his Robotics Learning class. The e3 robotics scholars received feedback from Russert on designs submitted for the bots battle, and that afternoon’s lesson focused on wiring with simple soldering for the designed robots, which were to be 3D printed of composite material prior to the competition.
Russert praised the bot design of ninth-grader Kassandra Rodriguez, as a “functional design” that minimizes material, prints faster and will prove to be lightweight in operation.
“Robotics is very interesting,” Rodriguez said. “I really like it.” She is in her first year at e3. She expressed possible interest in space robotics at NASA.
O’Brayantt Padilla, a junior from Lemon Grove, has been at the school for three years. He combines wide-ranging interests in computers and coding, as well as in fitness. “I like robots so much too,” Padilla said. Asked about possible career paths, Padilla discussed designing robotic prostheses.
Tenth-grader Flor Ruiz agreed. “Robotics is fun,” she said. “I like 3D printing, programming is cool too, but I need to get better at coding.”
On bot battle day, six teams of 30 competitors tested their robotics designs for best time navigating the maze, best time in the road race, and fastest team relay race time. Additionally, the quickest programming time was another among the battle day contests.
Padilla took a brief moment from bot team captain duties to describe the day’s activities. “The team-building was a real surprise today. That was enjoyable,” Padilla said. “Members of the team were really shy at first because they didn’t know each other. Working on the robots brought them together.”
Aside from the contests, bot battle attendees had the opportunity to experiment with coded drones. Learning facilitator Stephen Cerruti demonstrated the block programming that controls the drone maneuvers, and he flew one device around his classroom, hovering and landing the drone.
Located in the San Diego Central Library building Downtown, e3 Civic High School indeed does education differently, encouraging civic involvement in projects relevant to Downtown San Diego. That e3 stands for “engage.educate.empower.” The school describes its educational mission as, “Preparing scholars to become future-ready…” School attendees, elsewhere known as students, are dubbed “scholars” at e3. Each scholar is provided a MacBook Air laptop. What other schools call teachers are referred to as “learning facilitators.” The e3 leader is not called the school’s principal. Dr. Helen V. Griffith is the e3 chief executive officer/executive director. This background in psychological support may have demonstrated positive effects, because the school has a 100 percent graduation rate. Core and elective courses are all college preparatory level, for ninth through 12th grades. To date, 76 percent of graduates continue on to college. The approximately 400 scholars are drawn from throughout San Diego County, with most coming from within a 10-mile radius of the school.
— B.J. Coleman is a local freelance journalist and editor/staff reporter with 22nd District Legionnaire. B.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.