IBX STEM unveils online summer drone program

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, April 29, 2020

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With school cancelled for the rest of the semester and summer camps in question, Inner Banks STEM Center is rolling out an innovative, at-home drone program to keep local students engaged with learning over the summer.

“Since we’ve had to modify, adjust or cancel our after school and summer camp programs so far out of concern for the coronavirus, we felt we still had an ethical obligation to still try and come up with some creative ideas to try and work with the kids.”

In its typical summer programs and after school activities, a major part of IBX STEM’s mission to reach at-risk and under-represented students by providing STEM opportunities focused on boating and aviation. Due to social distancing requirements that may remain in place through at least part of the summer, the organization has had to get creative to accomplish that mission.

Using a fleet of 40 drones from California-based For the Win Robotics, IBX Stem will offer an online coding and robotics program for approximately 30 students per week this summer, with a maximum of 270 kids participating over nine weeks. Students will come from participating Beaufort County Schools, and will work through the curriculum online under the supervision of IBX STEM employees.

On a weekly basis, a new set of students will pick up the drone kits, a laptop and a health information packet provided by the Beaufort County Health Department. After the weeklong sessions is complete, participants will drop off their kits to be sanitized and repaired for the next set of students.

HIGH FLIERS: The IBX STEM summer drone program will use Parrott Mambo drones, manufactured by the California-based FTW Robotics. While IBX STEM initially purchased 20 of the drones, FTW donated an additional 20 in support of the local nonprofit’s mission. (FTW Robotics)

“It’s a brand new concept,” Powell explained. “The curriculum being rolled out for the seventh and eighth graders will be the first time this curriculum has been used in the United States by FTW Robotics.”

For Beaufort County Schools, a partner in the effort, the goal is to keep kids engaged with learning during a prolonged absence from the classroom. During the summer, students can often backslide in their learning. BCS Career and Technical Education Director Wendy Petteway hopes the partnership with IBX STEM will help combat that intellectual decline.

“We know we’re not going to have summer programs this year like we normally do, so this is an opportunity for our grades 4-8 students to kind of keep their brains moving and keep problem solving, so they can avoid some of that slide during the summer that happens normally,” Petteway said.

On the other side of the country, at the California headquarters of FTW Robotics, the IBX STEM drone program is also generating excitement. When IBX Stem purchased 20 of the company’s Parrott Mambo drones to start up the program, the company matched the purchase with 20 more drones at no cost. FTW co-founder Daniel Mehay says the company recognizes just how disruptive school closures have been to the educational process, and wants to help its partners address that.

“Al Powell was actually one of our first customers when we opened the business,” Mehay said. “It’s amazing to see that now we’re in a position where we can actually do something positive for him. We want to do that for all our partners. Al is trying to make something really great happen in the community for in an area where kids don’t have access to computers or Wi-Fi. They’re sitting at home and you’re trying to keep them engaged. Al’s trying to promote this thing and get the kids inspired. That’s something anyone could get behind and it was an easy decision for us to make.

Those interested in participating in the online drone program can contact IBX STEM at 252-495-0029. More information will be posted at ibxstem.org.