Drones have students flying high

After-school migrant program introduces technology

First-perspective goggles give the operator a view of what a drone sees

Until coming to Kent City, eighth-grader Ivan Aguilar-Duarte had never seen a drone, but now, not only has he had the opportunity to fly them, he can tell you how industries are finding ways to use them.

“Some of them are agriculture, security, mining and inspections,” Ivan said.

Learning about drones is a new part of the afterschool migrant STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program at Kent City Middle School. “I like technology best and I like experiencing something new,” Ivan said.

Instructor Kelly Hartley points out overhead wires that operator Ivan should steer clear of

“It is so important to give these students a glimpse of what they might not otherwise get to experience,” said teacher Jeremy Smith, who is one of the Kent City staff members who works both in the summer and the after-school STEM programs geared toward students from migrant families.

Kent City provides educational services children for families that travel from place to place for seasonal work. In Western Michigan migrant students generally leave in early winter and often return in late spring.

According to Will Lepech, director of migrant services for the district, about 120 students have participated in the afterschool groups over the past four years. This year, more than 30 students in grades K-8 are attending, with the majority in  elementary grades. Numbers are lower at the middle school level, but those who attend say it is worth it.

“Other students might have a drone to operate in their home, but families that have to work so hard to make ends meet, usually don’t have such things. This might just be the spark that ignites a future,” said Smith.

Instructor Jeremy Smith shows how to use first-perspective goggles while instructor Kelly Hartley explains how it works

Robots and Much More

Drones have added something new to the STEM curriculum, but with the weather getting colder, attention will soon turn back to other activities – such as building and coding. The students build Lego robots and then learn to program them to move, turn and do specific maneuvers, said Smith.

“I liked the robots better because we got to build them and get to them move and do stuff,” said eighth-grader Aridel Santiago- Roque.

“I liked both the drones and the robots,” added seventh-grader Vanessa Serrano, who has seen a drone before but never got to fly a big one. “I just like working with technology.”

This is the fifth year Kent City has offered specialized STEM opportunities for migrant students, said Lepech. The district also hosts a regional six-week summer school, which includes students from Kent City, Sparta, Kenowa Hills, Coopersville, Ravenna and parts of Fruitport. Last summer nearly 180 students attended

“Often migrant students have limited exposure to rich learning experiences in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Lepech. “Our goal is to engage them in highly collaborative experiences that support increased communication. We want to ignite curiosity within them. They may find a passion that they want to peruse personally or professionally.”

Specialized migrant education programs are federally funded and are designed to help students with “gaps” in their learning caused by the repeated moves their families make during the school year, Smith said.

Ivan Aguilar-Duarte operates one of the class drones

“Our students have some great assets, such as being bilingual, adaptable and hardworking,” he said. “If we can combine their assets with STEM skills they could solve future world challenges and earn a great living.”

“I love working with migrant students and technology,” said Smith. “I appreciate the perspective, enthusiasm, and work ethic that they bring, even after school. We’ve have several students through the years get excited about STEM projects and careers and the possibility of pursuing a career in the field.”

Ivan, who also enjoys working with Chromebooks in science and math, said he does not get much exposure to technology when his family travels to Florida,

But perhaps he may be one of those in which the “spark was ignited.”

“Maybe I’ll do something with technology when I get older– like working with drones,” he said.

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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