Ponaganset High robotics team headed to regionals (Valley Breeze)

By JACQUELYN MOOREHEAD, Valley Breeze & Observer Staff Writer

GLOCESTER – Consisting of students from various career and college educational pathways, the Ponaganset High School Robotics Team is headed to the regional FIRST Robotics Competition in Bridgewater, Mass., this weekend.

Also known as the Gongoliers, the team was named after its two mentors, PHS teachers Greg Gongoleski and Greg Coffey, who moonlights as a gondolier in the summer. The extracurricular activity, based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning, started in 2013 at the request of students, and currently includes 39 students from pathways ranging from engineering and computer science, to arts and design.

Nicole Dugas, PHS sophomore, said interest in the program from a diverse group of students is due to the variety of roles the club offers.

“We have many assigned tasks, from the Board of Directors to build, design, media, programming, controls, to scouting and greeting at the competitions,” she said. “We also have a lot of talented artists.”

Former Gongoliers still come and assist the new generation in preparing for the upcoming competition. One such student, Kyle Corey, a sophomore studying computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, had been on the team since its inception, but graduated from PHS after three years on the team.

Corey continued mentoring through his college career, and said the skills he learned in the Gongoliers, as well as in his engineering and computer science pathway, prepared him for college, but also a life in mentorship.

“Before I left, I taught them everything that I learned and they needed to know. A lot of the skills, such as the basics of solving problems, I still use to this day,” Corey said.

Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said that PHS has done an amazing job setting pathways for students. Wagner worked on the Prepare Rhode Island initiative to work with schools and businesses to build pathways with the skills employers are seeking.

“Students put it together and build something, say, a robot,” he said.

PHS senior Sam Hopkins said he feels he is already ahead of the curve because of what he has learned in his engineering pathway and the robotics club.

“I’ve loved the engineering aspect of the build. I’m already ahead because I’m already doing engineering,” Hopkins said.

Entering its fifth year of competition, the Gongoliers prepared a robot that can accomplish several tasks, including lifting boxes up to six feet high. And the team only had a six-week period to design, build, code, and test the machine after FIRST competition released challenge instructions Jan. 6.

To make the deadline, Gongoleski said the students have shown great dedication, some working up to 40 hours a week during the build period.

“These kids give up nights and weekends, staying after school every night and both weekend days,” he said.

The team is traveling to Bridgewater, Mass., on March 9-11, and will again compete in the Rhode Island District Event March 23-25 at Bryant University.

Since the first robot the team built, the Gongoliers name each after ancient gods. This year, the team elected to name the bot, “Aristaeus,” the Greek god who protected various skills and arts, particularly cheese making.

Cameron Leach, Gongolier and PHS senior said the name fit the robot because the team needed to drill out a “whole bunch of holes” in the robot’s aluminum frame in order to make weight limits.

“Like Swiss cheese,” he said.

Each of the older robots sits near Aristaeus, and Cameron points to the original. It is down to an aluminum frame and a handful of wires. He said the team re-uses parts constantly to keep costs down.

“There’s a little part of him in all of our robots,” he said.

Coffey said what he is most proud of is the students adhering to the competition’s goal of “gracious professionalism,” working together well, but also working to help other teams during competitions.

“The competition works on the honor system that everyone will obey the rules. We work very much by the books, and like to believe everyone else will too,” Coffey said.

FIRST Robotics Competition, the same nonprofit that runs the FIRST Tech Challenge, is open to high school students and described as a “sport of the mind.”

FIRST encourages mentorship and the development of science, engineering, and technology skills in students through robotics and Lego competitions nationwide.

Davies ready to expand (Valley Breeze)

By NANCY KIRSCH, Valley Breeze Contributing Writer

LINCOLN – As with many Rhode Island schools, the William M. Davies Jr. Career and Technical High School’s less-than-optimal physical buildings and equipment don’t match the quality of its dedicated faculty and engaged students, said officials on Monday.

The need for state-of-the-art technology and equipment is especially critical at this vocational school that offers a full academic curriculum, they said.

During an hour-long visit to Davies in Lincoln on Monday, Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said he’s heard about the school’s physical deficiencies from many Rhode Island business owners, including several who have hired Davies students.

“They are saying that they can see, as employers, that the school needs new machinery …” he told members of the Davies senior leadership team who met with him and two of his staff members.

Long aware of the school’s need to redesign both the size and condition of the physical facility to grow, Davies business manager Cheryl Carroll summarized how the school will use the $3.65 million it received this year from the state to develop the Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

Machine technology, bio-manufacturing, electrical and pre-engineering, four of the school’s nine programs, will receive upgraded equipment, the bio-manufacturing facilities will be expanded, and the machine technology facilities will be relocated and expanded.

“We need space, lab components and equipment to deliver that, as well as equipment upgrades so that we’re teaching what is relevant,” said Carroll. Several new members of the school’s board of trustees, including Dave Chenevert, executive director of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, said they want to ensure that the Davies curriculum remains relevant and useful.

With construction planned to start this spring and summer, Davies officials anticipate ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the new facilities before the 2018-2019 school year.

If all goes well, more upgrades will follow for Davies, where the south wing was built in 1970 and north wing was built in 1990. Located at 50 Jenckes Hill Road, Davies is a state vocational school, funded by the State of Rhode Island. The nearly 250,000-square-foot building houses approximately 875 students, 665 of whom come from Pawtucket and Central Falls.

Using consultants to assess the current deficiencies in the physical facility and evaluate what it should look like for 21st century learning, Davies is developing an overall master facility plan. According to a 2016 report, Carroll said that “doing nothing new,” simply addressing the long list of deferred maintenance issues, was estimated to cost more than $15 million. She expressed hope that the master plan for revamping the school, due to be completed by April, will receive a fair hearing so that it can help Davies “be relevant, feed industry (with trained workers), and do what we do best.”

A ballot measure for a bond referendum to pay for construction will be drafted and, ideally, approved during 2019, with the referendum vote in 2020, and construction to begin in mid-2020 and continue through 2023.

Davies’ health care program, with 145 students, is its most popular program, yet it operates in a separate modular unit that, says Carroll, is “busting at the seams.” As juniors, students earn their certified nursing assistant certifications.

Monday’s tour began in the automotive laboratory. Filled with paints, spray booths, tools and other equipment, thanks to robust partnerships with various companies, it is reminiscent of a professional auto body shop. Before graduation, every Davies student must complete a 50-hour internship – generally during the summer after his or her junior year or during his or her senior year – and many automotive students are hired at the companies where they interned, says Michael Strojny, automotive instructor.

“We have more job opportunities than we have kids we can put out there,” Strojny says. With both Volvo and General Motors committed to producing only electric cars in the next several years, he acknowledged that the school’s curriculum will need to offer additional instruction in safely repairing hybrid cars.

The tour continued with brief stops in the machine shop, the bio-manufacturing lab and a health care classroom. Some of Rhode Island’s best-known companies employ students in their internships, some of which are paid, said Susan Votto, supervisor for the Center for Advanced Manufacturing. In some industry sectors, companies now need this year’s juniors, but they must wait until summer to hire them for summer internships. Upon graduation, some students go right to work, while others pursue additional education, explains Victoria Gailliard-Garrick, Davies’ director and principal.

Gailliard-Garrick was quick to respond to Magaziner’s question: What are your biggest challenges over the next few years?

“It’s always funding … it’s a huge issue (affecting) hiring across the board,” she says.

Assistant Director Adam Flynn said, “The biggest opportunity is the changing statewide mindset around career and technical education. It used to be viewed as ‘lesser than’ … and realizing now that kids can get valuable jobs and earn a good living.”

That mindset, he believes, is changing, given attention from politicians, as well as national research showing the skills gap.

Engineering students create prosthetic arm for 9-year-old (Valley Breeze)

Scituate High School Academy of Engineering students are almost ready to deliver a holiday gift: a prosthetic arm for a 9-year-old boy.

Ollie Mancini, the son of Scituate 8th-grade math teacher Nicole Mancini, was born without his left forearm. Thanks to local students, he’ll have his new arm by Christmas.

R.I. high school at forefront, using technology to prepare students for careers and college (Providence Journal)

Ponaganset High School is the model for the new career and technical program hailed by Gov. Gina Raimondo in her pledge to prepare students for jobs that are both highly paid and highly skilled.

Prepare RI clearing path to career success for students (NK Standard Times)

More than 300 educators and local business leaders took time out of their weekend this past Saturday morning to participate in the first-ever Prepare RI summit, a state initiative which “closes the gap” between student learning and future, high-demand careers.

“It is not just about test scores or graduation rates,” said Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Ken Wagner. “It is about preparing students in a way that the people who will employ our students feel that they are aligned with what they need.”

R.I. education forum tackles career readiness (Providence Journal)

“This is about doing things differently,” state education Commissioner Ken Wagner said Saturday.

Wagner was speaking to educators from across the state, as well as partners from the business community, at the education department’s Prepare Rhode Island forum, held at URI’s Providence campus on Washington Street.

Prepare Rhode Island, he said, is about “aligning what our economy needs with what families need and want for their kids.”

PrepareRI Summit Brings Together 250 Rhode Islanders to Support Career Education

More than 250 educators, industry partners, students, and community leaders came together today for the first-ever PrepareRI Summit, a daylong strategy session on career education in Rhode Island. Hosted by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the Summit featured opening remarks from Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner and, by video, Governor Gina Raimondo, who has made job training and career education a top priority in her administration.

Superintendent Judy Paolucci: It's Not Your Father's Voc-Tech Program

I attended high school in the 80’s, when students had a choice – college prep or vocational education.  Both programs remained parallel and separate through the early 21st Century and both initially served students fairly well but not perfectly.  Vocational programs didn’t keep up with job market demands and college prep programs left many with high debts and few work options.

Today’s job market is very different both because skills traditionally associated with college prep are necessary for jobs that had previously been considered “vocational” (consider the technology in today’s heating and cooling systems) and because tomorrow’s workers are expected to change positions and roles far more frequently than in the past.  Since the mission of K-12 education includes preparing students for life after high school, it has become necessary to rethink the experiences students have in school.

My Turn: Ken Wagner: Recharging R.I. students’ interest in school (Providence Journal)

Picture this: A family sits down to dinner, is on route to soccer practice or getting ready for bed. The inevitable question is posed: “What did you learn at school today?” It’s a scene that’s played out on television and in our own families for decades.

The answer matters. It matters whether or not a student is excited to learn.