For a month, the seventh grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students of Waynesville Middle School, guided by their teacher Amanda Wells, have built and programmed robots for the Incredibles to use in their adapted Physical Education (PE).

The Incredibles are students who need an additional level of support during the day. Part of their day includes a special physical education class.

The floor of the gymnasium was covered with enthusiastic young people showing how their robots were able to toss a tennis ball. It wasn’t a competition. It was nine teams each demonstrating what they learned and accomplished through teamwork.

They designed and built their robots using Legos® powered by EV3 Mindstorms, small battery-operated programmable computers made by Lego.

“Some of the kids with special needs cannot throw a ball,” said student Lily Hill, who was the leader of her group. “We build the robot and they get to operate it.”

Jennifer Parton, one of the school’s physical education teachers created the program with Wells.

“Amanda and her students worked really hard on this collaboration,” said Parton. “My day is made every morning when these Exceptional Children (EC) come walking through the gym doors. PE is important for all students. With the help of peer (student) buddies, teacher assistants, and classes like Ms. Wells’, our Exceptional Children succeed on many levels.”

Parton also serves on the Adaptive Physical Education Council for the state of North Carolina.

Brandi Stephenson is the EC program director for Haywood County Schools and was pleased to see the enthusiasm as she described the scene.

“This was an amazing experience for all students involved this morning,” Stephenson said. “You guys sparked the interest of several kids in the Incredibles classes for making robots. Thank you for encouraging ‘love of learning’ in all of them. You guys are rock stars! It is collaboration at its best.”

Stephenson emphasized that the schools do many unified events where all students are embraced.

Activities like this illustrate why Wells and others go into teaching.

“The students were very excited to show off their creations,” she said. “I loved watching all different types of students interacting, having fun and learning. Education is about teaching the whole child, and I think we at Waynesville Middle School did that today. They work together to help their peers. STEM students not only learned about engineering robots and programming, they learned about perseverance, kindness and social skills. This group of seventh graders is amazing, and I look forward to seeing them make this world a better place. Education is not just the filling of a pail; it is the lighting of a fire.”

Student Hunter Sollie was another team leader.

“We got to do it all without instruction,” Sollie said. “To build a robot that can throw a tennis ball, and we did it for the Incredibles.”

This is something that makes Principal Todd Barbee most pleased.

“Our first period, JumpStart, is a time for students to choose any number of activities,” Barbee said. “For example, the student buddies for our Incredibles Adaptive PE class could have taken Science Olympiad, a competition team that prepares to compete in 23 events in a variety of scientific disciplines, or We the People, a club that focuses on civics and debate, but instead these students made the decision to support their fellow students with special needs.”

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