The world is constantly changing, and as new challenges arise for society to face, we risk failing to make the changes necessary to meet them. Education is how we prepare children to face the challenges of the future, and extracurricular supplements help students become well rounded individuals. Extracurricular activities for kids often focus on sports, yet there are so many new opportunities that have the capacity to prepare the next generation to thrive as constructive members of the 21st century. However, these opportunities are sadly often overlooked. Some people reading this will have never heard of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), while others have found their experience with FIRST Robotics programs to be life changing. FIRST Robotics is an international organization that runs robotics programs for students in pre-K all the way through high school, but what this simple definition doesn’t reveal are the true benefits that students receive hidden in the nuances of these programs.
According to firstinspires.org 81% of FIRST alumni declare a STEM major, compared to only 58% of people in a comparison group. But what students learn in FIRST goes beyond the science and technology knowledge they gain. Anyone who has been on a FIRST team at any age level can see how opportunities for students to develop real-world skills and associate what they are learning with methods of improving their world are integrated into the program. In the FIRST Lego League Challenge, the elementary and middle school program, one of the major components of the program involves students looking at an actual problem and developing a solution. Last season challenged students to find a problem in the area of transporting goods, and students were able to explore problems with packaging, delivery time and a variety of other topics, and then develop an innovative solution in that area. In the high school program, FIRST Robotics Competition, also known as FRC, the highest award a team can win doesn’t involve the robot they develop, but instead focuses on the quality of the team itself. This usually involves looking at how the team has used their STEM knowledge to improve their communities and help others. This has led many FRC teams to become extremely involved in their community. The benefits of FIRST are unlimited, whether it’s STEM knowledge, practical skills such as critical thinking, leadership, and teamwork or students learning how they can make a positive change in their community and world.
Despite programs such as FIRST truly working to better prepare students to become positive influences in the world, many kids end up in other activities, namely sports. The Little League has over two million children participating worldwide, while FIRST hasn’t even reached 700,000. The benefits of the FIRST programs are clearly larger than the science and technology skills learned and students’ tendency to pursue these fields; but simply looking at the two programs from a career perspective, the difference is astronomical. Less than 1% of Little League Participants end up playing Major League Baseball. Yet, as mentioned before, 81% of FIRST alumni declared a STEM major. One extracurricular activity provides students with the basic skills and inspiration needed to start a sustainable career — something many students end up Pursuing — while the other activity gives students a crapshoot in that field. Even for the students who don’t major in a STEM field, FIRST undeniably has a benefit for any student who goes through its programs; yet it is still hard to believe that in a society plagued with as many problems as ours, there is not more of a premium on a program that has such a focus on good citizenship–this is a shift that needs to happen. Simply taking a look at the students participating in FIRST compared to other youth organizations and then examining the benefits that these programs provide, it’s fair to say that FIRST is underrated. It would be worth any parent’s time to look into these programs.