The cafeteria at Shoemaker High School was briefly turned into a laboratory Saturday morning, as the campus played host to a regional robotics competition.

Mechanical components littered the tables and robots fired Frisbees across the room and maneuvered their way through mazes, but most importantly, young KISD students learned the basics of engineering and robotics.

Hosted and supported by Shoemaker High School’s STEM team, multiple Killeen Independent School District elementary and middle schools participated in the event designed to teach students the basics of robotics and develop an interest in math and science. 

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“I think this is the most cutting-edge, wave-of-the-future event that can be offered to young students,” said Cynthia Melton, a fourth-grade teacher and robotics coach at Haynes Elementary.  “In the past, it was only offered to high school students, then middle school, now finally we’re getting it here in the elementary schools.”

Haynes Elementary is participating in the regional event for the first time this year, bringing 21 students. However, with help and mentoring from Shoemaker’s STEM program, Melton can already see the advancements her students are making.

“It amazes me; it’s really great to see what these kids can do when you put the tools in their hands,” she said.

Other schools had participated in the event before.

“This is our third competition this year, and while these things are always fun, the exposure at these events is what we are after,” said John Wall, a science teacher and head robotics coach at Audie Murphy Middle School. “Exposing kids to science, mathematics, and robotics shows them that these kinds of career fields can be fun.”

Shoemaker’s STEM Academy has been offered since the high school opened in 2000. STEM has been successful at regional competitions and has even qualified for national tournaments.

The program currently has around 150 members, and has seen a steady rise in popularity at the high school. STEM coordinator and Shoemaker High School teacher Sandra Melendez said the STEM Academy is beneficial to students even outside of the engineering and mathematical tracts.

“The last four valedictorians at Shoemaker High School have been STEM members,” Melendez said. “While most of our former members have gone on to major in engineering and science-based fields in college, believe it or not, many of our former students have gone on to major in music and the arts.”

Current STEM member Theo Oatman, 14, said he sees the benefits of participating in such an organization.

“When I first joined STEM, I had no intention of pursuing an engineering or technician job when I graduated, but the more I’m in it, the more I think about joining IT programs, or pursuing it in college,” he said.

Oatman serves as STEM’s web manager, and was recently voted to an officer position with the club. The Shoemaker freshman spent his Saturday volunteering, trying to teach younger students that there is much more to robotics then building and programming.

“It’s a team effort; you have to work together to succeed,” Oatman said. “I want these kids to learn about robotics, have fun, and build experience, but my main goal for today is that I want this to be a moment that these kids remember forever, the day they look back and decided that this is for them.”

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