LETTER: Saline Schools Bond Proposal Will Benefit Students in STEM Activities

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This November, we, the Saline community, have a chance to show Saline students that we support them, their passions, and their futures.

On the backside of your ballot on election day, you’ll find the 2022 Saline Schools Bond proposal, a bond that will allow the next generation of student teams, clubs, and passions to flourish. Hundreds of Saline students today are becoming involved in new science, technology, engineering, and math-based (STEM) clubs. These clubs, even while working out of their current suboptimal conditions, are giving students a place to belong in school and preparing them to be innovators and leaders of the future. Here’s one such story–my own–of just how impactful these groups can be.

When I first wandered into the inaugural Saline Middle School robotics team meeting in 6th grade, I knew I had found a home. I remember us gathering around, huddling around a laptop that revealed to us that year’s challenge. As we opened the kit of parts, it quickly hit me how endless the possibilities were for our team to design nearly anything we wanted, as the box of generic aluminum stock, gears, and wheels afforded us so much more freedom than we were ever given to create in school.

Awestruck by the blank canvas that was presented to us, we quickly began throwing out ideas as fast as we could come up with them. We were all guilty of dreaming up ideas that almost certainly would have broken the safety rules of the game, with imaginations wandering from flying robots to fluid-powered beasts of a machine. As that season progressed, we spent many meetings hunched over our robot code, trying to debug errors as we taught ourselves a coding language that went far beyond the Hour of Code we had done at Heritage. All in all, through the many meetings spent learning on the fly in an SMS classroom, our team of rookies managed to throw together a pretty darn good robot. Looking larger, my experience in 6th grade set me forward onto a path that would greatly shape my role as a student, a leader, and an active member of my community.

Fast forward a few years. I’ve moved on to Saline High School. I’ve joined the high school FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, which takes everything we did in middle school and supersizes it. Coincidentally to this, I also got my first chance to take classes in the area of engineering; science at large had always felt like a background subject up until this point. Many of these STEM classes at SHS were great, hands-on experiences in something I was passionate about. Despite all of this, however, none of these classes quite scratched the same itch for me in STEM that robotics did. Although it took me many years into my FIRST robotics experience to realize it, the thrill of robotics and what made it different from time spent in a classroom had very little to do with our clunky metal robot.

Those willing to dedicate the time required for robotics – almost 20 hours a week during the season – have a passion for STEM and the team that simply can’t be matched by any 71-minute class during the school day. It puts people who are deeply passionate about the same things together in a way that no classes and few other clubs at school can emulate.

Students can have a group that would otherwise be next to impossible to find where they can “nerd out” about the same things, from discussing their DIY projects over Mario Kart during the meal that began each of our meetings to excitedly pausing a meeting to watch the latest NASA launch. Overall, robotics provided a place to build a community that simply isn’t possible in the confines of a typical class period focused all around work and very little play.

Beyond strictly STEM, robotics teaches so much more than how to build a robot. Few people realize that the high school team costs upwards of $15,000 per year to run, and students are in charge of all fundraising, leadership, and broad administration of the team. Robotics students have presented to the school board and Chamber of Commerce multiple times, worked to have their voice in shaping the very bond now presented to us, and used robotics as a platform for advocacy to recruit underrepresented groups in STEM and make all feel welcome at events. The game robotics presents each year is merely a platform that teaches students how to be innovators, leaders, and advocates who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.

The best part? Few of these things are unique to robotics, and many other students are having the same experience finding a home in the numerous other STEM clubs throughout Saline Area School, including Science Olympiad, Destination Imagination, Girls Who Code, and many more.

Everyone in high school should have a place where they feel at home. For you, it might have been on a sports team, in the scouts, or nearly anything else. For others, it may be a classroom where one teacher or one meeting changed the path of their life drastically for the better. For me, it was when I first stepped into that robotics meeting in 6th grade. For hundreds of students today, these places and these moments are part of a STEM group in Saline Area Schools, and the bond we are now being presented gives them the opportunity to flourish.

Today, these clubs that are creating the next generation of changemakers are working in far from ideal conditions. The high school robotics team, with its hundred pound robot and often ten foot tall targets, currently works out of a converted hallway in the basement with little ventilation or space to practice before competitions. Science Olympiad requires large spaces free of gusts to test their physics creations, and are in constant competition with sports teams to get a space large enough. Destination Imagination lacks a good space to store their elaborate sets and other designs. Universally, teams are locked in scheduling battles to get spaces that they often lose with little to no time to create alternatives. Purpose-built spaces will allow these teams to work more effectively and collaboratively in a single space. Curious as to what spaces like this may look like? Saline Schools has created renderings showcasing the new spaces each school will receive including everything from machine shops to collaboration areas to places to build permanent fields and showcase student creations.

The timing of this bond is no mistake either. This bond follows an expiring bond from 2000 that was used to build the high school and Harvest, and another from 2015 that worked to ensure all buildings were safe, warm, and dry. Taking a step back, let’s together admire all the resources the high school has provided to our community beyond the typical classroom and school spaces that were included at previous buildings in the district. Looking at just one such example, the high school is now home to an extremely successful career technical education program, the South & West Washtenaw Consortium. In many ways, the SWWC is teaching these same skills beyond the classroom that STEM clubs do, including hard technical skills and professional skills to succeed in the workforce. This previous investment is paying off on a very large stage; every year, students from the SWWC win local, state, and national competitions in the skills they were learning through the program. Similar spaces supporting STEM students can allow their teams to prosper just as much both inside and outside of the district. Looking broader, how impressive would it be to know the next great medical breakthrough, machine learning innovation, transportation method of tomorrow, or solution for our current environmental woes came from a Saline graduate?

Benefiting the whole community, this bond goes far beyond just new STEM facilities. New athletic facilities, a new playground, and new classrooms are just some of the wonderful additions that this bond will make possible, and all of these improvements have supporters who are just as passionate as I am. Within STEM, however, if you are curious about any of the experiences I’ve talked about, I encourage you to go out and check out what these students are up to every day. What you’ll find is many younger versions of myself. Students passionately running around, brainstorming wacky ideas for how to make their robot throw a dodgeball and climb up bars. Students doing research to create the science project of their dreams. Students learning how to manage money, communications, and leadership. Young students, lost as to making friends and finding their home at school, wandering into a meeting that changes their life.

If you have any questions about this bond, including specific improvements at each building in the district and how this bond impacts your taxes, I encourage you to visit the Saline Schools website.

Carter Harris
2022 SHS Graduate & Former SHS Robotics Team Lead
Student at Olin College of Engineering in Boston, Massachusetts

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