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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune High-risk students watch a video helping them to learn how to build robots at the Juvenile Community Justice building in Medford.

Robots go to juvy

Michael Torguson says it’s not enough to tell his students that what they’re learning is important. They have to find it interesting and fun, too.

“One of the biggest challenges I have in this classroom is getting kids re-engaged with learning,” he says. “They don’t come to this class because they’re behind the educational process; they’re pretty done with it.”

Torguson works with students ranging from seventh to 12th grade at the Juvenile Community Justice building, flanking the county courthouse in downtown Medford. His students are considered at-risk, having been referred to the program because they were expelled or had chronic absenteeism at their regular schools.

For the past several years, Torguson has used robotics to get those students interested in their own educations. This past week, he accepted a grant that will expand his efforts — in the form of 12 new LEGO Mindstorm EV3 robots he’ll purchase.

“It’s by far the biggest grant that I’ve ever written or received,” he says.

The $5,100 grant is funded by a partnership, called “Take it to the Court for Education,” between Wells Fargo Bank and the Trail Blazers Foundation. It supports academic programs related to arts, diversity and technology, among other subjects.

This year, 24 schools in Oregon received $110,000 total, out of 300 applications submitted.

Torguson says the robots will be useful for teaching across a variety of subjects, from the vocational aspect of constructing them to the data analysis involved with the robots’ performance.

“The robot learning is going to be just another way that students hopefully will get caught up in learning again,” he says.

Crater Academy of Health and Public Services also was awarded a grant, for $2,800, to supplement special education services with audible e-readers, audio books and other accessories.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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