Friday, April 20 , 2018, 2:21 am | Fair 55º


Dos Pueblos Engineering Seniors Reschedule Classes Following End of Robotics Program

Staffing changes and the move toward mechatronics led to the recent decision retiring FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1717

Dos Pueblos High School engineering students will all participate in the new mechatronics project, shown here, after the school retired the popular robotics team.
Dos Pueblos High School engineering students will all participate in the new mechatronics project, shown here, after the school retired the popular robotics team.  (Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy photo)

It turns out the decision to retire Dos Pueblos High School’s robotics team was made on short notice because two longtime teachers have left the program, leaving no one qualified to run the world-famous Team 1717 in the coming school year.

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy sent a letter to families and supporters of the program in late June, announcing that the FIRST Robotics Competition senior project would be permanently replaced by the new mechatronics program, which debuted last year in a so-called Carousel of Physics project.  

The move, announced a few weeks after the school year ended, angered and frustrated students, who have been looking forward to competing in a D’Penguineers Team 1717 uniform since elementary school.

It’s a myth that most students in the DPEA get the Team 1717 experience, since the competition team can really only serve 12-15 seniors and the incoming class will have about 100 students, according to the academy.

There were steady complaints from parents and students about the lack of opportunities for all students to be consistently engaged in the project, academy staff said in a recent letter to families.

Academy Director Amir Abo-Shaeer and other staff explained that the move to mechatronics will engage every single student in a unified senior project.

A project that only serves a fraction of students would be “educational malpractice,” they wrote.

“Simply put, the DPEA can no longer offer, endorse, or support a program that provides the majority of student participants with an educational experience that is a step backwards from their first three years of participation in the DPEA.”

In mechatronics, students design, prototype, test, manufacture and assemble their engineering projects in small teams, and put each piece together for a large-scale sculpture.

Robotics students show off a past FIRST competition robot in the Elings Center for Engineering Education in 2013.
Robotics students show off a past FIRST competition robot in the Elings Center for Engineering Education in 2013.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

Academy leaders said teaching both the mechatronics project and the robotics program last year — and letting students decide which one to take — caused staff and volunteer burnout, followed by two longtime staff members leaving: Machine shop teacher and manufacturing instructor Steffen Hausler and robotics instructor Sam Ridgeway, who himself graduated from the program in 2008.

Both men put in a lot of volunteer time in addition to their teaching schedules, particularly during the FIRST competition season, academy leaders said. With Abo-Shaeer leading the mechatronics courses, that leaves no one qualified to run robotics.

Students take four years of classes, including engineering and physics courses, and the senior capstone project was creating a robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition, each one designed to do a specific task such as throwing basketballs into a net and collecting/throwing discs.

The school’s team has competed since 2006, and its success — and “new cool” immortalized in a book of the same name — boosted enrollment numbers for the high school’s budding engineering program.

It started with 32 students per grade, and that skyrocketed to about 100 students per grade after the Elings Center for Engineering Education was built in 2011.

Incoming seniors and program mentors aired their frustrations with the school district board after they were notified of the change, but the decision by the school is final.

There are no more public meetings planned, and students are meeting with school counselor Scott Guttentag to reschedule their classes as needed, Abo-Shaeer said in an email.

"Robotics and Mechatronics have always required students to take classes outside of their regular 6-period school day,” he said. “The primary difference this year is that the DPEA is shifting away from offering classes during evenings and weekends. Classes are being offered from 3-5 p.m. on weekday afternoons instead."

There has been talk of attempting to form a community-based robotics team, given the local interest, but Dos Pueblos Principal Shawn Carey said she hasn’t heard of anything specific.

If a team did form, it would have to register with FIRST for a new number since 1717 is now retired — like a baseball jersey number.

Congresswoman Lois Capps, seen here on a 2013 tour, was shown around the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy by Director Amir Abo-Shaeer, who started the program in 2002.
Congresswoman Lois Capps, seen here on a 2013 tour, was shown around the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy by Director Amir Abo-Shaeer, who started the program in 2002. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

“The DPEA is not planning to be involved with a robotics team in any capacity,” Abo-Shaeer said. “All DPEA resources are going to be utilized to support the project-based curriculum for the 400 students enrolled in the program.”  

About 30 students signed up for robotics next year, and those incoming seniors have to reschedule classes to fit in the mechatronics courses, said assistant principal Bill Woodard, who handles the school’s master schedule.

Some students can fit in the courses in their six-period day, while others are going to take the afterschool option, he said.

“Most of these kids, to be honest, none of them are impacted by graduation, they have plenty of units to graduate and get (college prerequisite) A-G requirements – it was just wanting to do it all,” Woodard said.

There were concerns that students wouldn’t be able to participate in sports or graduate because of the schedule change, but that hasn’t happened, Woodard said.

However, on Tuesday, the DPEA notified incoming seniors that only two of the three senior courses would be mandatory (advanced engineering physics and mechatronics 1), to support students who want to take mechatronics while still participating in sports, theater or other desired courses. 

“One reason the DPEA is shifting away from night classes is to improve work-life balance for staff and students. With that in mind, we have amended the class scheduling options available to you for this year’s senior capstone project,” the letter said. 

The decision to retire Team 1717 is supported by the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the County Office of Education, and Dos Pueblos’s administration.

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy’s charitable foundation was informed after the decision was made, but before letters went out to families.

“While like most, we were surprised and saddened at the news, the foundation members understand that DPEA under the leadership of Mr. Abo-Shaeer is continually evolving to offer the best possible educational experience for each and every student in the academy,” foundation board member Susan Deacon said in an email.

In a recent communication with the community, foundation leaders thanked volunteers, mentors and donors for contributing to the academy over the years, saying, “Our organization is a model for the seamless integration of private philanthropy and public institution for the greater benefit of the community. We look forward to even broader outreach and communication as the program builds and expands on its successes and achievements.”

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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