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Twenty-five familiar faces stare at me as I pull down the whiteboard to start the day’s lesson on how to use if/else statements to follow a black line. Teaching robotics every weekend at the Catholic Church off of Paseo Padre Parkway every Saturday morning carried a new surprise; a new student, each bringing a new story behind showing up every Saturday at 10:00 A.M.
I see Pastor Diane in the back, listening intently. I think back to when we first met, four years ago. When she heard my story of why I wanted to teach programming to children from all backgrounds, she became my biggest supporter. Every Sunday mass she spoke to parents enthusiastically about my classes, bringing in more and more students for me to teach. She became a regular attendee of the class, as well as a friend to each of the kids for years to come.
I explained to the class, “If the sensor is on a black line, it turns right until it detects a white value, else?” One hand shot up immediately, Aman. Aman was known as a recluse by all his classmates; his parents said that his doctor had diagnosed him with Asperger’s, and that in general they weren’t able to raise his confidence. With every project built, I saw his self-esteem rise a notch higher each Saturday. “The robot turns left until it senses a black value!” he said proudly.
I look around for questions, the recognizable sound of a pencil quickly etching careful notes echoes throughout the room. Ty was the student who took the most notes in class while I lectured. Ty made a 32-mile journey every Saturday with his mother. He asked outstanding questions, suggested new robots and programs I could teach in upcoming weeks, and helped the students around him. When I asked him why he went out of his way to be the best student in my class. He looked back at his mother, and explained how they worked Sundays at the market so he could afford going to his favorite robotics class.
Every weekend became a learning experience for me. Teaching at the Saturday class with these students created personal relationships that would carry on for years to come. The class at the church was one of the first robotics classes I taught, where I saw many students grow over the course of three to four years as a result of it; they became more confident, inquisitive, and many attributed my Saturday classes as the reason they decided to pursue higher education in the sciences.
Those students are the reason I keep teaching.
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