East Harlem students thriving thanks to robotics competition

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Stacey Sagar has the story from the Javits Center. (WABC)

Putting together your own robot may sound like the stuff of science fiction.

But for some local students, this lesson in engineering is teaching them so much more.

It is a race to finish line for these robots, literally, and for the hundreds of students at the controls it is the culmination of months of hard work.

For high schooler Matt Nieves and his team fittingly called the Warriors of East Harlem, it has felt at times to be much more.

"My grades have actually gone up tremendously from when if first joined the program," Nieves said.

In fact, Matt says he was nearly failing in school just a few years ago and now he's getting set to go to college.

It's largely because of the folks who run this regional competition; a non-profit group called New York City First. They provide the framework which has been known to get many at-risk kids back in school.

"Because they're working on their robot and the only way to do more is to go back to the classroom and learn more about what they're trying to apply," said Pat Daly, of NYC F.I.R.S.T.

At a practice session, the students have two and a half minutes to get their robots to pick up as many bins and baskets as possible with a few complications thrown in from the opposing team.

On Sunday, it will turn into an elimination tournament. Three out of the 66 teams will make it to the world championship in St. Louis in April.

But for East Harlem's after school program, running the team for a decade now, success is even sweeter.

"They don't have a lot of resources, but they want better for their children," said Dawan Julien, of the East Harlem Tutorial Program.

That's true especially after some major struggles in years past.

"One of the guys on the team, it was mistaken identity, and they shot him in the street," Nieves said.

And for those who might have had no place to turn it's provided a much needed outlet.

"I might have ended up down the wrong road if I hadn't had programs like this to keep me on the right track," said Karl Mena, an East Harlem Robotics Competitor.

They're learning engineering, marketing, teamwork, and how to design robots, but also taking control of their future.

Related Topics:
educationrobotsstudentshigh schoolcompetitionschool competitionEast HarlemNew York City
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