LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – As the sun peeked out of the clouds on Wednesday morning, students on Jacob Elementary’s robotics team were ready to race a fleet of solar cars they made thanks to a donation from Verizon.

Some zipped across the finish line, a few feet from where they started. Others stalled or veered off the sidewalk, requiring some last-second assistance from Rick Basham, the school’s STEM coordinator.

The robotics team, made up of fourth- and fifth-grade students in its first year, received 20 assembled solar cars and 100 solar car kits through Verizon’s donation, which is part of a $400 million nationwide initiative by the company to bolster STEM education in the next five years.

“Because each student is different in the way they learn, you never know what will be the one experience that ultimately steers their career path,” Kevin Holland, Verizon’s director of business sales, said in a statement. “These solar cars will be a great educational opportunity at Jacob Elementary and we’re hopeful they may even plant the seed for some of these students to one day choose a career in STEM.”

For Jacob students like Elias Herp, the hands-on approach has helped pique their interest in robotics and engineering.

Elias has learned not only how motors and solar panels work, but also how the sun can generate electric energy. He said he plans to continue his participation in robotics when he reaches middle school next year.

“This is stuff that we might develop into the future because a lot of the things we’re using currently we can’t continue using because they’re not reusable energy,” the fifth grader said as his classmates put the finishing touches on their cars.

The school plans to offer STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, education and open the robotics team to younger Jacob students, starting in kindergarten.

Basham, a former engineer in his second year at Jacob, said students at the school have constantly asked him whether they can join the team, which placed 17th out of 88 schools during regional Jefferson County Public Schools competition this year. The team had about 15 students this year, he said.

“They’re hungry for the hands-on piece, so our goal here is to implement technology at the lowest level, the lowest grades that we can,” Basham said. “When our students come in Jacob as kindergarteners, we want to be doing STEM with those kids.”

“I think we’re going to start opening that box next year when we make it a special area and so all kids have access,” said Michael Terry, principal at Jacob.  

Terry said he’s happy to see such enthusiasm for robotics at his school. He touted the program as an example of JCPS’s deeper learning initiative, which has been a key push for JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio since taking over at the district.

“We’re really seeing that here in this robotics program and the STEM program we’re starting here at Jacob,” Terry said.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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