By Lilly Milman

The Skagway School will fund start-up of FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), a competitive high school robotics program, which will run independently from the school. The school board approved one-time funding of the program at its meeting on Aug. 27.

The FTC program is an extension of the existing FIRST LEGO League robotics program, which the school sponsors for junior high students. The school used to sponsor an FTC team, coached by teacher Vivian Meyer, but the program was shut down in 2012 for lack of interest. A high school robotics elective was also offered for one year but stopped for the same reason.

The roughly $8,000 raised by the former FTC team for expenses like travel and equipment sat untouched in an account at the school. While this is not enough to sponsor a school team, the one-time donation of $2,000 approved by the board withdrawn from the $8,000 is enough to get the new team started. Since the money came from fundraisers and does not belong to the district, the board only had to reach out to Meyer to approve the use of the $2,000.

The FTC team will not be able to use the school for practice because there is not enough space, Skagway School Superintendent Joshua Coughran said at the meeting. 

 “I know that they need a large room and they need a lot of supplies,” he said. “They need areas to set up and then keep up and we don’t have that either. We’re kind of bursting at the seams in a lot of ways.”

Andy Miller is running the program, and the Skagway Traditional Council is providing a venue. Miller decided to restart FTC because, as a coach for Skagway’s FIRST Lego League (FLL) team the Prickles, he noticed that some interested students were aging out of the program. “Skagway has had such an amazing FLL program,” Miller said. “It’s a shame to see it stop there.”

Another perk of the FTC program is that it can help students applying to colleges and there are scholarships available, Miller said. Interested students don’t need a background in robotics to get involved, although it is helpful. When he started coaching FLL, Miller himself had no experience in robotics or engineering, he said.

The FTC season began Sept. 7. This year’s team is at capacity with six students. If it is successful, then Miller will consider expanding it next year.