Ben Indeglia was an eighth-grader at New Roads School when he enrolled in a robotics class because he wanted to play with Legos. His interest in the subject soon grew. The following year, Indeglia traveled to St. Louis for the World Championships with his high school team.
“Once I went there and got to see all the amazing robotics and the amazing competition, it really cemented my love for [robotics]. And that’s what I have dedicated the last four years of my life to,” Indeglia said.
Nurtured by a school culture where approximately fifty percent of students receive financial aid, Indeglia was inspired to bring his passion for robotics to students who did not have access to a program like his. New Roads considers itself to be “private school with a public purpose,” explained Head of School Luthern Williams. “New Roads…shares its resources with other schools and with other people outside of our community.”
A GoFundMe campaign raised enough money to finance an initial robotics set, enough for 15-20 kids. Indeglia recruited his own STEM teacher and middle school robotics coach, Danny Figueroa, to help him launch the Compton Robotics Club. Raised in Compton himself, Figueroa could relate to many of the students he worked with. “I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to give back to this degree,” said Figueroa.
Initially, Indeglia and Figueroa planned to hold weekly robotics lessons at a community center in Compton. When those plans fell through due to low turnout and a lack of equipment, Darin Brawley, superintendent of the Compton Unified School District, contacted the pair. Brawley offered funds to procure more equipment and looked to partner with Indeglia and Figueroa to bring robotics to every middle school in the district.
“We couldn’t do what we’re doing without the amazing partnership from our district partner…Compton Unified District is in the middle of an amazing turnaround…they turned out to the perfect partners because they were already in the process of trying to create new opportunities for their students,” Figueroa explained.
Indeglia and Figueroa, aided by a couple of volunteers, mentor students at twenty-four middle and elementary schools in Compton on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. In 2017, the club’s third year, they sent three Compton teams to the regional competition and received multiple awards.
“It’s almost unheard of,” Figueroa said of their success.
At the World Competition in Houston this spring, Compton Administrator, Educational Services Michael Kurinsky will present the framework that Indeglia and Figueroa created so that other schools and districts can try to replicate it.
Indeglia explained, “The main goal of Compton Robotics Club when we initially started it made it self-sustainable. I knew I had effectively a two and a half year time limit on the amount of work I could put in, so our goal was to make it so that even after I departed and it was just Danny, the program would still be able to thrive.”
When the club began, it had four teams and 35 members. Now, according to Kurinsky, the Compton Robotics Club serves over 20 Compton schools, sponsors 14 robotics teams, and works with approximately 110 students. This November, the district plans to host two robotics tournaments. Kurinsky predicts that the club will reach over 200 kids and oversee 25 teams by the end of this year.
“When people come together from different walks of life with a common goal of serving children, you can make really, really big things happen that will change lives,” Figueroa said.