CARLSBAD — Inclusion is a part of the fabric at Kelly Elementary School.
From the school’s annual “Acceptance Day” to robotics, the teachers, parents and students make sure special needs students are part of the school’s community.
And this year, two special needs students joined the robotics program, which is open to any and all fourth- and fifth-graders. On Dec. 8, Kelly was represented by Como Fun and City Savers teams in the FIRST Lego League regional competition at Legoland.
The Lego competition promotes science, technology, engineering and math, through Legos and project-based events.
The Kelly City Savers team was awarded the judge’s inclusion award, celebrating Jacob Nichols, who is a high-functioning Down syndrome student, Kelly Robotics Program Director Nicole Buchanan said.
Buchanan oversees the nine teams and coaches two of them, one of which has another special needs student, Bailey Benton, who was diagnosed with autism and is nonverbal.
“They’ve figured out a way to really include her throughout this whole process,” Buchanan said. “They share with the community that a student like Bailey, who has disabilities, can be included.”
Despite her challenges, Bailey’s teammates, fourth-graders Emery Cramond, Moorea Marchi and Bradley Lyon, said she is a big part of the team, even though Bailey has certain limitations.
Bailey communicates through her mother, Tricia Benton, and together the two helped the team develop its project for the competition. With Bailey as inspiration, the team focused on creating a more inclusive playground to better service special needs kids.
“It’s amazing how much she’s proved to people,” Moorea said. “The doctors said she could never walk. She can walk like 20 seconds or more.”
Emery said they came up with designs for swings to generate electricity, while Bradley said it would be powered using collaborative motion, or como (also their team name), for short.
Additionally, Emery also came up with a drum set for special needs kids who have tendencies to hit objects.
“You when hit them, they vibrate and create energy,“ Emery said. “I’m still working on that.”
The team also met with Carlsbad Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Ben Churchill, the Carlsbad Parks and Recreation Department and Pacific Play Systems, a commercial playground equipment company, to discuss their playground, and to perhaps add some of the more available and functional features to a more inclusive playground at the school. Buchanan said the students made the pitch because of Measure HH, the $265 million school bond passed in 2018 for facilities upgrades throughout the district, including Kelly Elementary School.
“We’re trying to make playgrounds that make power and are more inclusive,” Bradley said.
Buchanan said many of the team’s ideas are not yet fully functional or realized in the real world yet, but the concept of a more inclusive playground area is attainable on certain levels.
Regardless, the team overcame nerves at the competition to present its project and robot skills. Each team must complete a set of “missions” to show its robot the depth of programming and execution.
Bradley said he was excited for the event, while Emery and Moorea each said they were nervous. Still, the team finished in the top 25.
Although the Kelly teams came up short in their chase to the world championship in Texas in April 2020, Aviara Oaks Middle School won the competition and qualified. They beat out 54 other teams and will compete in Houston.