Nearly 12,000 students across North Carolina will benefit from $1.6 million in grants for robotics programs approved this month by the State Board of Education. In all, 18 school districts and one charter school statewide will share in the funding to support after-school programs aimed at developing student interest and proficiency in science and math through competitive robotics.
The approved grants, recommended by a review team within the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), were selected from a total of 65 applications across the state and representing $6 million in requests - nearly four times the money available for the programs. The General Assembly included the $1.6 million, allocated from federal COVID-relief funding, in the state's biennial budget approved last year.
"The fact that we had so many applicants, with the requested interest, demonstrates that this is an area that our [school] systems and our students are very eager to explore and grow," Charles Aiken, NCDPI's section chief for math, science and STEM, told the board.
The size of individual grants ranges from $24,600 to $316,950, depending on numbers of students to be served and other factors like geographic distribution, and how the program would support students disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Grant funds may be used for several different purposes, including establishing a relationship with a robotics partner, purchasing robotics kits, costs associated with supporting a robotics team, and paying stipends for coaches.
The robotics partners that grantees choose must have a national presence in robotics education and competition and provide adequate instruction and programming for students and adult volunteers in robotics education, project-based learning, and competitive robotics. They must also promote a safe and equitable social environment (live or virtual).
Howard Ginsburg, STEM consultant for NCDPI, told the board that in addition to helping to develop proficiency in the areas of math and science, the robotics grants are aimed also at helping develop the state's workforce in STEM-related fields.
"We want to increase understanding, awareness and interest in pursuing career opportunities that are STEM-based," Ginsburg said. In addition, information about the grant program presented to the board noted that participation in robotics competitions helps students develop such durable skills as communication and collaboration to support educational growth.
Below are the 18 school districts and one charter awarded a robotics grant: