VC program teaches young students science, math


July 22, 2010 at 2:22 a.m.
Updated July 25, 2010 at 2:25 a.m.

Robotics professor Stephanie Garcia, 36, and instructor Ryan Esparza, 20, attempt to repair a malfunctioning robotic arm.

Robotics professor Stephanie Garcia, 36, and instructor Ryan Esparza, 20, attempt to repair a malfunctioning robotic arm.

Digit, a small noisy robotic arm, clawed at stacks of dice in a science classroom at Victoria College.

Students fidgeted with remote controls to move the machines to pick up small items.

Earlier in the week the middle and high school students in the TexPrep science, technology, engineering and math summer program, built the robots by hand.

"It taught me patience and working with a team," said 14-year-old Annalicia Aguilar.

Annalicia, a third-year student of the program, hopes to study medicine one day, but believes she she's learned a lot.

"I'm really happy I took it even though it did take a lot of time and effort and work and gluing and patience and screwing in screws," Annalicia said.

The program, funded by a $35,000 grant from the Victoria College Foundation has its largest class this year with 33 students. The seven-week program is free for local students and began four years ago with seven children.

Students in three different levels take classes in physics, math, engineering, logic, problem solving, statistics and technical writing.

"They're all amazing," 14-year-old Megan Willmon, a third-year student, describing the classes. Megan hopes to be an author someday, but believes the education will be useful. "Every year I've learned something different from every class," she said.

Throughout the program students build gliders, mouse traps, cars, bridges, audio speakers and bridges. The students also get free lunch and took field trips to NASA, the Victoria landfill, the Coleto Creek power plant and the Texas A & M University campus.

Melissa Robinson, director of Pre-College Programs, hopes to expand the program to a fourth year, but retention is difficult because of rigorous coursework and standards.

"It is a pretty challenging curriculum," Robinson said.

Students attend day-long classes, take tests, have homework and are only allowed three absences.

"Sometimes it gets to the college level," said 12-year-old Amber Branecky, a sixth-grader who helped build an air-pressure-powered rocket.

Robinson believes the program offers unmatched educational opportunities.

"As long as they show up it's an educational opportunity for them and it's experience," Robinson said.

At the end of the program, third-year students took home a robotic arm.

Megan, who will be leaving, was sad to go.

"I'm actually kind of sad to leave," Megan said. "I feel honored to be one of the three finishing the year."

She's unsure what she'll do with her robot.

"I was considering taking it apart and rebuilding it just for fun," she said. "I know I'll always treasure it."



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