Darien Foundation’s $213k grant will fund 12 robotics clubs for Darien students

DARIEN — In a boon for the district’s commitment to building innovative STEM education, children in all of Darien schools now can join one of 12 new robotics clubs funded through a $213,000 grant from the Darien Foundation.

The grant, administered over two years, will support one of the district’s main goals for the next decade: increasing student familiarity with core principles of science, technology, engineering and math, school officials said.

“A robotics program is one of the easiest ways to get students interested in STEM, because it brings together coding, engineering and creative thinking all in a really fun, engaging way,” said Joan McGettigan, director of instructional technology for the district.

The robotics program is available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, McGettigan said. It will be offered as an extracurricular program at all five elementary schools, Middlesex Middle School and Darien High School, according to a release from the Darien Foundation.

Each club will be organized by age and grade, and run by volunteer teachers and staff at each school.

Kindergarten through second grade students will work with a more introductory curriculum using pre-built robots to explore coding concepts. Older children in elementary and middle schools will use team-based programs through FIRST Robotics, a national youth robotics organization.

And the high school program, while still in the works, will focus on designing, building and coding robots from scratch.

Interest has already been overwhelming, McGettigan said. Space is limited to 12 students on each team, but enough students have already applied that McGettigan said clubs will operate on a lottery system.

The two-year initiative will hopefully serve as a launching point for a more widespread program, McGettigan said. Following pending Board of Education approval, STEM robotics programming could be integrated into district curriculum.

The skills students could learn from the program are vital, especially after the pandemic, McGettigan said.

“The students were off on their own for so long,” McGettigan said. “So having something that not only is STEM but has that teamwork capacity, I think is really important. When you look at what are the skills that students need today — they need to work with a variety of people, creative thinking and incredible communication skills.”

The Darien Foundation said the program is in line with its own long-term mission of bolstering technology education to improve student education and opportunities.

“STEM learning is so important right now — and for our society’s future,” said Robin Nelson, a Darien Foundation board member who oversees partnerships with the school district.

Volunteers interested in getting involved with the program should contact McGettigan at jmcgettigan@darienps.org.