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Salem CyberSpace teams with NASA, MIT to offer free robotics program

Posted by Bella Travaglini  June 23, 2010 10:29 AM

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to talk with the astronauts orbiting the earth in the International Space Station?

For some local kids, this dream will become a reality.

Salem CyberSpace, a program offered through North Shore Community Action Programs, Inc., has been awarded a NASA grant to bring a summer robotics program to middle-school-aged kids, said Linda Saris, director of the program.

Up to 20 youths will be chosen to participate in the free 5-week program and learn from mentors from MIT while working on computer programs controlling robots just like the ones aboard the International Space Center. The winning team that creates the best computer program will be able to test their software on one of the robots on the Space Station while talking with the astronauts on board.

This is the first year NASA has offered such a grant, said Gwynn Hughes, director of the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing after school, summer and extended learning opportunities for children and youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The agency partnered with MIT in applying for the grant and is one of only four groups in the state to be awarded the monies.

“We know that for many low-income students, the lack of fun and engaging learning opportunities over the summer contributes greatly to the achievement gap between low income students and their higher income peers,” said Hughes.  “Our hope through this project is to help address this gap so that all of our students have the opportunities and education they need to be successful.”

The program will be conducted over 5 weeks beginning on Monday, July 12. While the majority of the program will be held at Salem Cyberspace, 98 Lafayette St., the kids will take at least two field trips to MIT’s gravity-free labs in Cambridge to test their work.

Salem CyberSpace provides educational and career opportunities for low-income youth and adults. NASA wants to generate an interest, particularly in minorities and girls, for exploring the sciences and technologies as possible career paths, said Saris.

Applications are now available by calling Linda Saris at 978-740-6667, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eligibility is based on income. Youths entering 7th, 8th or 9th grade in the fall may apply.

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