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Musician will.i.am works with students from The Studio School.

By Katherine Czujko
Studio Middle School Teacher

Studio Middle School this year added an award-winning robotics program to its arts course offerings. Although the team has only been competing since November, the students have already earned three awards at the FIRST Lego League and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions.

For Studio School, adding a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) elective was a bold step, aimed leveraging the pilot school’s arts focus to teach 21st century skills.

“A big part of our school’s mission is to help students develop a toolbox of essential skills and attributes — things like creativity, perseverance, focus — through the arts,” Principal Leah Raphael said. “When we had the opportunity to add robotics, a ‘scientific art,’ to our program, it felt like a perfect fit.”

Through the Studio School’s partnership with the i.am.angel Foundation, founded by Black Eyed Peas musician will.i.am, L.A. Unified students have been able to tap into extensive resources. On Feb. 11, the Studio School’s robotics team will be showcasing their work at Trans4m, an annual gala held at will.i.am’s Hollywood studio, dubbed “Future.”

Studio School students worked with MIT interns on their robots projects.

Studio School students worked with MIT interns on their robots projects.

“Working at will.i.am’s studio was a wonderful experience to have, especially when my team and I got to present our robot to will,” said eighth-grader Lizette Cruz. “That was so cool! The workspaces at the studio were always pristine, and the MIT interns and staff there were very kind and helpful. I would go back a million times because of that.“

Additionally, the foundation secured six interns from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to spend six weeks in Los Angeles, mentoring students through the engineering process.

“Through their involvement with the FIRST Robotics program our middle school students are getting experiences that will shape them definitively, at a critical juncture,” Raphael said. “There’s nothing like problem-solving alongside a MIT student to help cultivate the mindset that you are deserving and capable of pursuing the best educational opportunities our country has to offer.”

To build on the rookie program’s success, Studio School is actively seeking out more mentoring relationships for their students. Future projects include working with engineers at Lenovo, professional software developers, and high school robotics students on the Sotomayor campus. Continuing to provide unique learning experiences, support, and feedback from skilled experts will allow students to make the classroom to career connections needed to successfully pursue advanced education and work in a STEAM field.