The teams are part of PVEF’s successful after-school initiative, Robotics Roundup, an authorized affiliate of, and registered participant in, the international FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) program. The foundation sponsors teams from Camarillo’s public schools to participate in this science and technology program, the result of a collaboration between the non-profit organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), and the LEGO Group, makers of the world-renowned small plastic building blocks. FIRST is designed to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills, while motivating young people to pursue educational and professional opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. PVEF also sponsors one community tournament, as FLL calls a practice contest , and one Qualifying Tournament, an official competition where teams with the highest scores can advance to a regional Championship Tournament. The regional winners ultimately advance to the World Festival, FLL’s international competition which annually draws teams from 50-plus participating countries.
“Although we’re just in our fourth year, Robotics Roundup has quickly become one of the foundation’s most popular and successful programs, and one which annual grows in scope and positive impact,” said Ms. Darren Patnoe, board member of the Pleasant Valley Education Foundation and vice president of its technology programs. Patnoe proposed PVEF’s participation in FLL in 2008. “As a recent article in the Los Angeles Times points out, California students are getting less and less time in the classroom for science instruction, and even fewer opportunities for hands-on science experimentation. PVEF’s mission is to find ways to combat that trend on behalf of children in Camarillo schools. In the process, we’re positively affecting the entire county and region.”
The Los Angeles region of FLL covers the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. FLL’s operational partner for the Los Angeles region, LeRoy Nelson, said, “Darren Patnoe and the Pleasant Valley Education Foundation have had a tremendous impact on FLL in this region. The number of FLL teams in Ventura County have grown from just three in 2007, to 24 in 2008, and 37 in 2011. The support that Darren and PVEF provide to FLL coaches and teams in Ventura County is unsurpassed anywhere in the country.”
PVEF provides assistance to one of a small, but growing, number of school districts and their affiliated education foundations across the country that encourage and sponsor participation in FLL by all public schools within their districts. Ironically, one particular district was inspired by PVEF’s example.
“One direct imitator is the Carlsbad Education Foundation (home of LEGOLAND California), which introduced FLL into Carlsbad’s 14 schools in 2009,” added Nelson. “One of Carlsbad’s board members heard him describe what Darren had done with PVEF when I named her as the outstanding volunteer at the 2008 L.A. Region FLL Championship at LEGOLAND. Using PVEF’s Robotics Roundup program as a model, other states and school districts have adopted similar goals. Many have more funding, but none are as well coordinated as PVEF’s initiative.”
PVEF’s program has also inspired some local efforts on a smaller scale. Somis School is sponsoring four new teams this year. Mesa Union School is sponsoring two of its own teams, and is using training and support services from the foundation’s Robotics Roundup committee to stage a community tournament on November 6. California Lutheran University (CLU) professor of physics and engineering Bob Rumer, approached PVEF with his desire to sponsor a Qualifying Tournament, which will take place on the university’s campus on November 20.
PVEF held its own community tournament on October 29 and will be sponsoring a Qualifying Tournament at Monte Vista Middle School on November 19. The organization’
All PVEF tournaments are open to teams from across the region on a first-come, first-served basis after space is allotted for the foundation’s own Camarillo public school teams. However, the desire for regional teams to be able to compete within the region is quickly outstripping the number of tournaments available, as word of this successful program spreads. The Mesa Union and CLU tournaments were started because PVEF had to turn away several teams from its sponsored tournaments when capacity was quickly reached. These other two tournaments have also reached capacity.
“Robotics Roundup is all about creating a fun environment for children that emphasizes teamwork, experiential learning, and the research and resolution of genuine global business and technological issues,” said Patnoe. “It is also an excellent teaching platform for encouraging kids to get excited about the worlds of science, technology, and engineering. We hope to inspire Camarillo’s and the County’s kids to become our future scientists and engineers, working together to solve the world’s problems.”
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About Pleasant Valley Education Foundation
Based in Camarillo, Calif., PVEF is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing resources and programs that create hands-on learning opportunities in the arts and technology for Camarillo public school students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade. Founded in 1985, the foundation brings businesses, schools, educators, parents, and community volunteers together to create and implement hands-on programs that cultivate and enhance experiential learning and 21st century living skills, including creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. The PVEF’s numerous, award-winning initiatives include CineMagic, its signature after-school performing arts program; Robotics Roundup; a speech program and tournament for third graders; and innovation grant to support arts and technology learning. For more information, please visit http://www.pvef.org.