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Lodi, Becton Region and Wallington high schools will be starting robotics teams thanks to a grant being provided by Pascack Hills High School.

The Pascack Pioneers, Pascack's robotics team, has been competing for 13 years and participates in the Mid-Atlantic region. Encouraging other schools in the advancement of STEM studies(science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Pascack also mentors robotics teams and clubs. This year, Pascack hopes not only to mentor but also help fund the schools robotics clubs and has applied with the Department of Education for the FIRST Tech Challenge Mentoring program, a pilot program that allows districts with experienced robotics teams to help others start up clubs.

Each partnership can apply for $15,000 a year, according to David Saenz, press secretary for the DOE.

The new robotics teams will compete in the annual FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Challenge for 2017-2018. Pascack will act as the overseeing agent for the grant monies, said Math teacher and robotics team supervisor Kevin Killian.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit organization founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen in 1989.

"Dean founded the organization with one thing in mind -- to inspire kids to aspire to be science and technology leaders," said Haley Dunn, public relations specialist. "He wanted them to be excited about learning and STEM."

The challenges presented to students allow them to have a fun, hands on experience that also provides them first hand experience with STEM principals and engineering.

"It empowers them to pursue careers in STEM and even if they don't do that, it helps them become well-rounded individuals with life skills, communications skills, leadership and teamwork," Dunn added.

Killian agreed, noting that his students have learned a plethora of life skills. Pascack Pioneer members put together the presentation and cold called schools in the area to show the presentation.

Lodi, Becton Regional and Wallington high schools will receive funding and mentoring from Pascack Hills. Wood-Ridge High School will receive mentoring as well since they started their program last year. In the past, the Pascack Pioneers have provided support for teams from Clifton, Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Academies. If they get the grant, it will be the first year Pascack will be able to help fund the robotics clubs.

The three schools will receive help for two years before venturing off on their own, according to Thao Hansen, Lodi High School's science supervisor.

"They will be a mentor to guide us through the competition and hold our hands for the first two years," Hansen said. "Then we can operate on our own and fund our own program after that."

On Jan. 24, the Lodi Board of Education approved a resolution that would allow the district to enter into a partnership with Pascack Hills High School to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge.

Becton Regional High School Superintendent Louise Clarke noted the students at the high school have spent the past year participating in the South Bergen Jointure's Robotics Competition but only served as judges for the younger participants.

"We are hoping that joining this group of schools will give our students an opportunity to have a hands on experience in the field of robotics," Clarke said. "By collaborating with Pascack Hills, our students will have a grant opportunity that will provide them with funds needed to purchase equipment, to construct a robot, and compete in a competition at the end of the school year."

There are several levels to FIRST and the projects get more complex as the students get older, starting in elementary school, Hansen said. FIRST Lego League Jr. is aimed for ages 6 to 10 and encourages students to become involved with STEM at an early age. FIRST Lego League encompasses fourth through eighth-graders, while FIRST Tech Challenge, where the three schools will compete, is for seventh through 12th graders. The FIRST Robotics League is for high school students but operates within intense guidelines and time restrictions.

The new teams would participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge, which is a step down from the division Pascack Hills High School competes, according to Killian.

"Their robots are smaller," Killian said.

FIRST Tech Challenge teams have two months to build their robots and the robots will typically look similar due to the kits used by the teams.

"The robots are from a more standardized kit," Dunn said. "FIRST Robotics get a little more creative and strategic, using different tactics to play the game. They will look different based on what they focused on during building."

Globally, an estimated 460,000 students will participate in the FIRST challenges this year and Dunn said the organization is predicting that 3,400 teams will participating in FIRST Robotics and 5,500 teams will participating in FIRST Tech.