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Robotics designated as school activity in W.Va.

 Beginning today, students  across the state can select robotics as a recognized co-curricular activity by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

Students in high schools involved in the WVSSAC are now able to participate in robotics as part of a sanctioned activity. This new classification enables recognition and parity for robotics programs to thousands of students. Official rules will be presented for adoption by secondary principals at the annual Board of Control meeting in March  2022, subject to final approval by the West Virginia Board of Education.

The NASA Independent Verification and Validation Program Education Resource Center has played a large role in championing robotics in West Virginia. The ERC team at the NASA’s Katherine Johnson IV&V Facility in Fairmont,  manages The West Virginia Robotics Alliance. The ERC is funded by a grant from NASA and managed by Fairmont State University.

“We hope that recognition from the WVSSAC will increase the number of schools throughout West Virginia participating in competitive robotics,” John Holbrook, of the ERC, said. “Ultimately, our goal is to see robotics teams from every county of West Virginia.”

Todd Ensign, of the ERC, believes this new support will make that hope a reality and give hard-working students proper acknowledgment for the hours they spend building, programming, testing and practicing after school, and traveling to tournaments.

“Students can now receive a varsity letter in robotics, earning recognition similar to thousands of students currently in marching band or other sports,” he said.

NASA and the IV&V Program have sponsored teams at new schools for the past four years, and according to IV&V Program Director Greg Blaney, it has been worthwhile.

“NASA’s IV&V Program has been partnered with the Fairmont State University for almost 10 years inspiring students across the entire state of West Virginia,” he said. “Robotics becoming a school activity is a dream come true knowing that all state students will have an opportunity to get their hands on an experience that could drive them into a great career right here in their home state.”

The season for robotics begins Monday and runs through May 30. Adding robotics as a co-curricular activity through the WVSSAC can increase participation, access and acceptance of robotics as recognized competitive program with greater support. Some schools will start offering events at the start of season, while most will take place in the spring to align with the state championship tournament slated at the end of May.

The NASA IV&V ERC has been a driving force in multiple robotics initiatives and has seen engagement increase from about 500 students to more than 6,000.

“Since I became involved in competitive robotics 13 years ago, the number of teams in the state has increased 10 times over,” Ryan Utzman of the ERC said. “Recognition by the WVSSAC is an exciting reflection of the incredible efforts of the students, coaches, and teachers who have made this growth possible.”

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