July 13, 2023 by HCDE Communications
As Academic and Behavior School West’s (ABS West) third annual All-Earth Ecobot Challenge Day came to a close, so does Principal Dr. Victor Keys’ time as an educator. With more than 15 years of experience, the institutional giant in Harris County Department of Education will retire on July 31.
“Challenge day is an honor to witness! That’s why I made sure to be here,” an emotional Keys stated at the event on Wednesday. “Many of my kids are in the hospital, and some have been incarcerated, but they are here having a good time, working together, and practicing the social skills we teach throughout the year.”
The STEM-focused All-Earth Ecobot Challenge, facilitated by HCDE’s Center for Afterschool, Summer, and Enrichment for Kids, allows students to build, code, and perform tasks with LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robot Kits.
Six teams of special needs students started collaborating to build their robots when they reported on the first day of the extended school year. The curriculum teaches students to pilot the robots to complete missions judged on speed, navigation, and defense. For each task completed, teams were awarded points.
David Mejia, an eighth grader and leader among his team, used his experience in Ecobot competitions to problem-solve challenges that arose throughout the day.
“This is my third competition, so I got to be the pilot this year,” said Mejia. “We had to reprogram our robot a few times to drive the course but with practice, we brought our time down from a minute to 51 seconds. I’m proud because we have the fastest completion time today.”
ABS West Educational Aide Michael “Mechanized Mike” Rowe, who oversaw the school’s Ecobot Challenge this summer, says the nature of the program emphasizes students’ individuality, natural leadership, and peer-to-peer interaction.
“This competition is a big confidence boost for our students, giving them the ability to be successful,” said Rowe. “They have goals that they can achieve and with the confidence to push ahead, we are helping prepare them for real-world struggles within a safe environment.”