Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerWashington Principal Ericka Lovrin

Washington High students in new robotics club preparing for international competition

The robots are coming — to San Francisco public high schools.

Next spring, Washington High School in the Richmond is poised to produce one of approximately 3,000 teams to compete in an international robotics competition after students recently created the school's first robotics club.

Since forming in early October, the club meets twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, to plan for Jan. 3 when they will receive details of the competition and parts for their robot project. From there, each team has six weeks to build its robot before the contest kicks off in March.

Washington senior Stephanie Tam, the club's project manager, said the 60 students who have already signed up will be broken into teams of four to focus on different aspects, including building the robot, developing its software, calculating the business and handling public relations.

“This is how everyone is working together now in the 21st century,” Board of Education President Sandra Fewer said at a club event Wednesday. “People at Google and all these tech companies, they don't work individually, they work in teams.”

The club was inspired by Lowell High School's robotics team that has previously competed in the renowned FIRST Robotics contest and has spurred friendly competition between the schools, Washington Principal Ericka Lovrin said.

The program was supported by a $20,000 grant from Facebook, orchestrated with the help of Supervisor Eric Mar and the Richmond Village Beacon that provides services to the neighborhood, said Michelle Cusano, the Beacon's director.

“It's hands-on learning,” Cusano said of the club. “[Students] can be creative, they can be innovative, they have to be flexible thinkers, they have to work together.”

The club encompasses the four elements of STEM education: science, technology, engineering and mathematics, school officials noted.

“Exposing youths to STEM initiatives and technology now will help them set a path, have a vision for the future,” said Aaron Moses, a community engagement manager at Facebook. “Technology is playing a more increasing part of all careers, so if you want to be successful in the future, this is what we believe is needed.”

Kaxian Situ, 17, has no doubt that technology — particularly robots — will be part of the future. That's why the Washington senior is not wasting any time learning how they work.

“I personally think that in the future we'll be working with robots a lot, so right now we should get experience,” Situ said.

Another Washington senior, Gordon Lee, said he joined the robotics club because he has always been curious how technology works.

“You could buy a computer from Office Depot, a toy from Walgreens and just out of the box, you can use it, and you don't need to know anything about how to code it or how to make it,” the 17-year-old said.

Other San Francisco Unified School District high schools have registered in the competition next spring, including Lowell, Galileo, Gateway, and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

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