I was asked to write a letter of support for the Melrose High School iRaiders, who are competing for the FIRST Robotics Chairman’s Award, and I wanted to share what this group of students, parents and volunteers, working with City, school and business leaders, have been able to accomplish in our community, and what I believe to be the ripple effect on other areas.
To Whom It May Concern:
I write many letters in my job as mayor to support different organizations. I am enthused to help any organization succeed, but I am particularly enthused about writing this letter today to you. The iRaiders, from their conception to today, have fundamentally changed education in our community, particularly in the area of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
Allow me to give you five examples of why this is so.
- Due to incredible budgetary times, the schools’ efforts to fund this program to get it off the ground was a major hurdle. In fact, this program is thriving without substantial contributions from taxpayers. A committed group of parents, volunteers, and students, working with the Melrose Public Schools and local businesses as well as area technology companies, built the iRaiders on their own terms, using problem solving and good business development to obtain space, money, time, and expertise. They built this organization like they would build a robot, with hard work, ingenuity, and creativity. It is an example for young and old alike that when you want to get something done, there are no obstacles. That is a lesson in science, engineering–and life.
- The goal of Melrose High School has always been to develop a well rounded young adult outside of our core academic areas, providing an exemplary program that fosters excitement and energy for learning. We have achieved this in our world-class Fine Arts department, our Athletics Department, and many after-school clubs and electives. Through their success, the iRaiders team has filled a vacuum for young people whose passions lie in the areas of science and technology. The program gives them the opportunity to build a team that is close to the school community, building self esteem and seeing achievement happen from hard work. Every child should have that experience. All children have it now with the iRaiders. They foster exceptional community pride citywide.
- The iRaiders have created a feeder system of young children in the areas of science, technology, and robotics. My son Ryan is one of those individuals. He is a seven-year-old second-grader at the Horace Mann elementary school, and from the time he was two, he loved Legos, building, blocks, and electronics. He and his friends now take part in an after-school Lego building team where they learn the early concepts of what our high schoolers are doing. Wednesday is his favorite day of the week, because after school, for an hour and a half, he builds and creates. He is excited about what he is doing, building self confidence and understanding that hard work is rewarded with achievement. There are hundreds of elementary school-aged children who feel the same way as my son. In fact at the middle school, which deals with young people going through some of the most difficult years of their social and personal lives, the Vex robotics team has won major awards. To see an organization build a feeder system and a base of young children in such a short period of time is extraordinary.
- Recently, a group of parents formed MEC, the Melrose Education Coalition, to promote education in Melrose. It is my opinion that the iRaiders and their success and the publicity they generated in championing science and technology, was the one of the reasons for the intense focus on STEM education that we have seen in the past year in the City of Melrose. We started our first science and technology fair, with attendance from well over 2,000 parents and students, and we had various seminars educating parents on what is being taught in science and technology in the Melrose Public Schools. Before last year, only one elementary school had a science fair; this year all our elementary schools are having science fairs, and some are lasting two nights with record numbers of participants. These advances in science and technology are the result of the hard work of many, but I would argue that the spark started with the iRaiders
- With momentum building for science and technology, the City of Melrose applied for a state grant to rebuild our science department at Melrose High School. This is a daunting $6 million-plus project to bring in the newest technology and the newest lab equipment in an 18,000 square foot science wing. We were approved, and we are one of only a handful of communities in Massachusetts to begin construction this year. We will be opening our new Science Department in late August 2013. This is a new day for the science and technology in the City of Melrose. We are also planning a tech center at our high school in the coming years. Any great initiative starts with a spark. In this case, many people provided many sparks, but again I would argue that our Melrose High School iRaiders have been one of the inspirations for all of these initiatives. In difficult times, many organizations say “Perhaps now is not the right time” or “The challenge is too hard.” The iRaiders have never said that, and the community has followed them.
For these reasons, and many more, I believe the Melrose iRaiders are worthy of the Chairman’s Award. I would be happy to talk to you or anyone from your group personally regarding my passion for this issue.
Robert J. Dolan