When Grace Gallego and Zachary Meagor were in the sixth grade at St. Catherine School of Morgan Hill, their school started their first-ever robotics program.
Both Gallego and Meagor volunteered enthusiastically to join the team, though neither had much experience with robotics. Their first forays into competition clearly reflected that.
"We started bottom of the bottom," Gallego said. "Like we barely had moving robots getting into our first competition."
Still, both Gallego and Meagor were hooked. Their robots got better and better, and the students, now both freshmen in high school, got more involved in the sport.
Gallego, in particular, said her involvement in robotics was teaching her skills like leadership, problem-solving and teamwork that were benefiting her in many other aspects of her life. It was a revelation that sparked in Gallego a desire to share the sport with others who had not yet been exposed to it.
Like schoolchildren in Ghana.
“This school in Awaso, Ghana, has kind of a connection to a priest who was at [our] church years ago," Gallego said. "I was like, 'What if we started a robotics program at this school?'"
So fresh out of eighth grade, Gallego, Meagor and a few other students flew out to the Awaso Academy, bearing buckets filled with robot parts, mats and hearts filled with a desire to teach.
They taught the students during hours-long seminars before they eventually let them build the tiny robots and race them in the courtyard like remote control toy cars.
“The youth in Ghana do not have the same opportunities as us. So we were thinking, if we bring this to them then they'll have so much more experience with science, technology, math,” Meagor said.
Seventeen days later when it was finally time for them to head home from Ghana, instead of taking the robotics equipment back with them, the St. Catherine students left the robotics for Awaso Academy to keep.
It was a jaw-dropping moment for the kids.
“The happiest thing I am is that I was seeing these kids learn from it and they had so much talent and so much already knowledge on this,” Gallego said.
But they didn’t stop there.
Once Gallego and Meagor returned to Morgan Hill, they set out on a mission to share robotics with students at schools with fewer resources than St. Catherine.
Other students who were inspired by their mission introduced the sport to students at Sacred Heart Nativity, another Catholic elementary school in San Jose.
“We brought the same kits and we got to build drive trains and got to see their faces when they like built a robot for the first time,” said Faith Fernandes, one of the student volunteers.
With a newfound campaign of establishing robotics programs at STEM-friendly schools and a recent VEX Robotics tournament at Great America, students at St. Catherine are hoping to get people just as excited about robotics as they are.
“How can you not want to teach kids who are just so happy about it?” Gallego said.