Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 3:15 am | Fair 44º


Students Protest End of D’Penguineers Robotics Team at Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy

The school opts to implement a new mechatronics program as the senior capstone project starting next year

Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy students spoke Tuesday night in protest of the program’s decision to eliminate the popular robotics Team 1717 starting next year. Amy Dixon, at the podium, told the Santa Barbara Unified school board that students “were promised a robot when we applied.”
Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy students spoke Tuesday night in protest of the program’s decision to eliminate the popular robotics Team 1717 starting next year. Amy Dixon, at the podium, told the Santa Barbara Unified school board that students “were promised a robot when we applied.” (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Dos Pueblos High School’s Engineering Academy is eliminating its popular and high-profile robotics Team 1717, which rakes in awards at the international FIRST Robotics Competition every year and put the school’s innovative program on the map.

All of the program’s classes are project-based but none are known community-wide like the D’Penguineers team, which started building robots for the FIRST competitions in 2006.

The Class of 2016 was notified of this drastic change with a June 26 letter — after the school year ended — that was signed by Dos Pueblos Principal Shawn Carey, DPEA Director Amir Abo-Shaeer, and academy teachers and staff. In place of the robotics competition, the new mechatronics program will be the senior capstone project starting next year.

Students and mentors of the program protested the decision to the Santa Barbara Unified School District board Tuesday night, though the choice was made by the school.

Engineering Academy student Kenyon Prater said he’s been following Team 1717 since fourth grade and the group has “practically achieved legendary status” in the community.

The DPEA has its own charitable foundation, business and community sponsors, and a cadre of volunteer mentors who work with students.

Elementary schools have started robotics programs and local scientists and engineers always ask about the robotics team when anyone mentions the academy, Prater said.

“We recognize that the retirement of FIRST Robotics Team 1717 is a loss, and that for some of you it is a significant loss of a dream that you have looked forward to fulfilling for years,” school and academy leaders wrote in the letter to families. “This was not discounted at any point. In fact, it was weighed heavily throughout the decision­-making process and still weighs heavily on all of the DPEA staff.

"Learning objectives and outcomes simply must be prioritized over other considerations by an educational institution, and retaining the FIRST Robotics program as a capstone project cannot be justified when the Mechatronics project offers students a substantially more enriching educational experience.”

Scroll down to read the letter. 

The sudden loss was devastating news for students, who told the Board of Education the robotics program was the reason many of them chose this program — and this high school — in the first place.

Kally Zheng, who will be a senior next year, said many students chose to attend Dos Pueblos — some passing on offers from private schools or other academy programs — because of the robotics program.

Due to the Team 1717 commitment senior year, most engineering academy students front-load their classes to take online, summer and even nighttime courses during high school, which means missing out on jobs, internships and even vacations, students said.

“We arrange our education, our minds and our lives, one by one, because of robotics,” Zheng said.

And yet, apparently no students were consulted before the decision was made to cut the robotics team.

Mentors spoke against the change as well, saying students felt “betrayed” after making a major commitment to the program. Eliminating nighttime sessions may make it more difficult for volunteer mentors to participate, one person noted at Tuesday’s meeting.

Public speakers hoped that the decision could be reversed or at least delayed, to allow current students to finish the robotics curriculum.

The Engineering Academy is always considered a community, but this major decision was made without input from students or mentors, student Amy Dixon said.

“We were promised a robot when we applied,” she said.

Students were given a choice between robotics and the new mechatronics senior project this year, and soon-to-be-seniors were given the same choice in February for the fall. However, the mechatronics program will be the only choice from now on, taking up three periods a day all year long, according to Dos Pueblos.

That scheduling change will cause some students to drop out of the program in order to finish college-preparatory classes and graduate, students said.

The letter to students and families says the timing was “not ideal” and “unexpected” but that the mechatronics project — with objectives designed by teachers, not an outside organization’s competition — will give a better, unifying educational experience to students.

It will allow more students to be involved in the full engineering process, including design, prototype development, programming, manufacturing and quality control, the letter says — opposed to splitting up students into teams to each work on one component of the FIRST competition robot.

Carey declined to comment further, referring people to the letter, and Abo-Shaeer could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The Board of Education took no action on the item since the protests were made during the general public comment session. The board doesn't usually involve itself in course decisions on a school level, and it's unclear if there is any way for students and families to get the decision changed.

Superintendent Dave Cash said anyone with questions or comments should refer them to Dos Pueblos and the DPEA directly. 

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.

Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Letter to Families

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