Robotics camp to be held at Bunkie Magnet this week

Project 1-Avoyelles event teaches basic robot programming

There won’t be any metal automaton waving his arms and warning “Danger, Will Robinson” like there was in Lost in Space. There also won’t be a Rosey the Maid dusting the desks like the Jetsons had.

However, there will be real robots at work on the campus of Bunkie Magnet High School this week.

“These are not toys,” Dr. Donald Prier said. “Students will learn how to program real robots to complete a task.”

Prier is one of the founders of the Project 1-Avoyelles non-profit, which is sponsoring the summer camp. Prier, a Mansura native living Houston, is an author and retired chemist.

Approximately 24 youth who will be in grades 7-9 will participate in the robotics camp this Monday-Friday. Classes will be held from 1-4 p.m. daily. Lunch will be provided. There is no registration fee.

There will be a special ceremony after the Friday session in which certificates will be awarded to participants.

The organization teamed up with Red River Charter Academy last year for a grant-funded camp at the Mary Bethune Center in Marksville.

FUNDED BY DONATIONS

This year’s camp is funded solely through local donations. Donations to support the summer camp expenses, and Project 1’s other education-related efforts, are still being accepted.
Prier’s son, Donald Prier II, will once again lead the summer camp -- volunteering, as he did last year, to use his experience as a high school robotics teacher and coach to give local youth a basic understanding of robots.

“Donnie said he wants to do this to benefit the youth in Avoyelles Parish,” Prier said. “He and his two daughters, 14-year-old Sydney and 16-year-old Lillian -- who have done well at high school robotics competitions in Texas -- will lead the classes.”

Donald Jr.’s high school team in Washington state won a national robotics championship. Now he is teaching robotics at a high school in Houston.

“Last year we had six robots and planned for 18 kids,” Prier said. “We had 16-18 on the first day, but on the second day about 25 showed up.”

Prier said the decision was made to expand the program, so there were teams of four instead of three.

“This year Donnie is bringing nine robot kits -- and maybe 10,” Prier continued.

Project 1 has planned for about 24 students, but could have a few more than that.

“We are trying to make sure the students in the public schools have access to this type of learning experience,” Prier said. “We want all of the towns in Avoyelles to be represented. Last year we had students from six towns in the parish.”

This year’s robots will be larger than the ones students programmed last year.

PROGRAM ROBOTS

The campers will program their robot to successfully maneuver a map -- either a street map or a Martian landscape map.

“We will teach them the principles of math and geometry necessary for them to tell the robot what to do with their programming,” Prier said.

In short, the program will tell the robot when to go straight, when to turn left, when to turn right, etc., until it reaches the end of the map.

Project 1-Avoyelles recently organized a field trip for APSD students to participate in a STEM Day event at LSU, hosted by Dr. Isiah Warner.

Warner, of Bunkie, is a chemistry professor and also Project 1’s board chairman.

The organization also hopes to develop after-school tutoring program and a mentorship program to help under-performing students in the public schools.

“We will be creating a Fundraising Committee to work throughout the year accepting donations and sponsorships and looking at grant opportunities,” Prier said.

Project 1-Avoyelles was founded by several Avoyelles natives who left the parish to become successful in their chosen careers.

The group’s focus is on supporting public education and ensuring public school students have the tools, training and education necessary to succeed when they graduate.

A key element in the organization’s plans is to encourage community involvement in the programs.

Three “villages” based around the three high school attendance zones have been established with approximately 400 individuals enlisted to support Project 1 efforts.

Charles Jones of Marksville -- a retired U.S. Army colonel, retired public school teacher/ principal and the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury president -- is the organization’s parish coordinator.

For more information or to volunteer to assist Project 1-Avoyelles in its efforts, call Jones at 359-1666, Dr. Roy Jackson at 281-513-6961, Conrad Meyers at 703-244-5949 or Prier at 281-961-5087.

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