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Robotics an Official Co-Curricular Activity in West Virginia

The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission will recognize robotics as a sanctioned activity, providing a framework for competitions and the opportunity for students to receive a varsity letter in robotics.

(TNS) — Beginning next week, students all across the Mountain State will have the opportunity to select robotics as a recognized co-curricular activity by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

Starting Nov. 1, students in high schools involved in the WVSSAC will be able to participate in robotics as part of a sanctioned activity. The new classification enables recognition and parity for robotics programs to thousands of students. Official rules will be presented for adoption by secondary principals at the annual Board of Control meeting in March 2022, subject to final approval by the West Virginia Board of Education.

The NASA Independent Verification and Validation Program Education Resource Center has played a large role in championing robotics in West Virginia. The ERC team at the NASA's Katherine Johnson IV&V Facility in Fairmont manages The West Virginia Robotics Alliance. The ERC is funded by a grant from NASA and managed by Fairmont State University.

"We hope that recognition from the WVSSAC will increase the number of schools throughout West Virginia participating in competitive robotics," John Holbrook, of the ERC, said. "Ultimately, our goal is to see robotics teams from every county of West Virginia."

Todd Ensign, of the ERC, believes this new support will make that hope a reality and give hard-working students proper acknowledgment for the hours they spend building, programming, testing and practicing after school, and traveling to tournaments.

"Students can now receive a varsity letter in robotics, earning recognition similar to thousands of students currently in marching band or other sports," he said.

NASA and the IV&V Program have sponsored teams at new schools for the past four years, and according to IV&V Program Director Greg Blaney, it has been worthwhile.

"NASA's IV&V Program has been partnered with the Fairmont State University for almost 10 years inspiring students across the entire state of West Virginia," he said. "Robotics becoming a school activity is a dream come true knowing that all state students will have an opportunity to get their hands on an experience that could drive them into a great career right here in their home state."

The season for robotics will run from Nov. 1 through May 30. Adding robotics as a co-curricular activity through the WVSSAC can increase participation, access, and acceptance of robotics as recognized competitive program with greater support. Some schools will start offering events at the start of season, while most will take place in the spring to align with the state championship tournament slated at the end of May. Individual high schools are encouraged to offer robotics meets including non-judged robot games and skills runs.

The NASA IV&V ERC has been a driving force in multiple robotics initiatives and has seen engagement increase from about 500 students to more than 6,000 and counting.

"Since I became involved in competitive robotics 13 years ago, the number of teams in the state has increased 10 times over," Ryan Utzman of the ERC said. "Recognition by the WVSSAC is an exciting reflection of the incredible efforts of the students, coaches, and teachers who have made this growth possible."

Leadership from the largest school district in West Virginia applauds the decision, saying robotics plays a pivotal role in their preparation of students for the future.

"Kanawha County Schools has dedicated itself to the advancement of our countywide robotics program and we're very happy to see it recognized as a WVSSAC sanctioned activity," said the county's Superintendent Tom Williams. "So many of our students find opportunities for growth and social interaction through our robotics programming and being included under the WVSSAC umbrella will only encourage more students to participate and find enjoyment in both the everyday learning and competitive events associated with robotics."

©2021 the Times West Virginian (Fairmont, W. Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.