This past week, the LigerBots represented Massachusetts along with the Green Reapers (FRC Team 1735, from Worcester) in Washington, D.C. to advocate with the rest of the 250 FIRST National Advocacy Conference attendees for the reauthorization of the Perkins Act of 2006 and for provision of the full budget allocated for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Funds from the Perkins Act provide grants for technical education and STEM opportunities in second careers to those who may otherwise not be able to afford it. ESSA includes a flexible block grant program under Title IV Part A, which can be used by school districts to provide and expand high-quality classroom-based and afterschool STEM programs.
Our second goal was to grow connections with staffers and other FRC teams. We were given the opportunity to speak with Representative Kennedy III, as well as staffers from the offices of Senators Warren and Markey, and Representative Capuano.
Before the conference began we went to the American Museum of Natural History.
On the first day of advocacy training, Steve Hyer (conference organizer and former mentor of FRC team 27, RUSH), Don Bossi (president of FIRST), and Dr. Jeff Weld (from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) spoke about the importance of STEM advocacy and gave a brief civics 101 lesson about how a bill gets passed. When the day was over, the LigerBots went back to the hotel to to work on preliminary drafts of our pitch to our representatives.
On the second day we attended presentations given by representatives from a number of educational organizations from across the U.S. about ESSA, Perkins, and how to advocate for a bill. We also listened to presentations by other FIRST teams about state-level advocacy efforts. We met with the Green Reapers to discuss and prepare our Senate pitch, and went out for a team-bonding dinner to get to know more about their team.
On the last day, fueled by a breakfast of pancakes, we entered the congressional offices, confident and ready to convince our representatives that this funding needs to happen. We talked a bit about FIRST and how the STEM community represents our future generation of engineers. We described how we want to grow FIRST and STEM by reauthorizing the Perkins Act and fully funding ESSA.
After a successful wrap-up of our presentations, we attended a reception, representing Massachusetts along with the Green Reapers. We met Fatima Terry from the Department of Defense (DoD), who said she’d like to have further exchanges between the LigerBots and the DoD about how to help students find their passions and pursue them more deeply before college. Each of us has come back to Newton inspired to promote the mission of supporting the funding of well-rounded STEM programs, and we look forward to attending next year’s conference; hopefully with an even greater number of team members.