GIRARD — Students from all over the eastern portion of Kansas built robots, towers and more as part of a STEM camp at Greenbush this week.

Students enrolled in Greenbush’s Migrant Education Program spent Monday through Thursday at the education center learning about engineering, computer science and more.

The Migrant Education Program seeks out students who are the children of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in the state. These children are constantly moving with their families, thus changing school districts. The program helps supplement their education through camps like the one at Greenbush.

“The classes and programs we offer through the migrant education program fill in some of the gaps from moving all the time,” Instructional Coach and Team Leader Rachel Phillips said. “What they learn here builds on what the work the school districts do to further their education.”

The camp split students into two groups — kindergarten through fifth grade and junior and senior high school. Instructor Lisa Blair said students in the older group had spent the week programing robots to move along certain paths and turn at certain angles, building towers and more.

“We’re mainly focusing on computer science using robots and starting with basic programming,” Blair said. “We use a free program called Code.org that we really encourage students, families and school districts to use.”

Students built their robot using a kit, then programmed it to perform certain tasks. Maria Jose Carmona, one of the students, explained how the robots operate.

“The robot has two independent motors,” she said. “The wires hook to the robot’s ‘brain’ and move the program to the motors.”

Carmona’s partner for the project, Donal Escobar, explained the programming system.

“These symbols let us tell the robot how much power to use, how much to rotate and how far to go,” he said.

The students took breaks from programming to build towers and work on engineering skills. Once a task was explained, the problem solving and adjustments were left to the students to figure out.

“I wouldn’t want to walk them through everything,” Blair said. “That takes away from the problem solving aspect, which is a large part of the camp and computer science.”

The older group also discussed careers associated with computer science and what opportunities were available to them after graduation.

The group of younger students — kindergarten through fifth grade — also worked with programming skills. Two girls who named their Lego robot “Sissy” used drag and drop commands on an iPad to control her.

“Exposing the elementary students to this helps them in the future,” Blair said. “Once they hit junior high and more advanced programming, it’s like second nature to them.”

The Migrant Education Program is funded through the federal Office of Migrant Education. Money from the federal level is allocated by the Kansas Department of Education to school districts and service providers like Greenbush.

Greenbush serves the eastern half of the state. Aside from camps and classes, the program works with students on graduation readiness and staying in school, as well as getting back into school or obtaining a GED.

Phillips said Greenbush finds students through school referrals, as well as program recruiters and advocates who meet with families that may qualify.

Advocates and recruiters stay in touch with families to connect them to other providers when they move again for work.

“Networking is key when working with such a mobile population,” Phillips said. “We make sure when our families move, they stay connected with education providers.”

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.