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Drone program takes flight at Southern Berkshire Regional School

“It’s all about having fun with technology,” says Southern Berkshire Regional School District Technology Director Chris Thompson on the district's new aerial drone program. “They are all learning basic skills that can all come in handy for them in the future."

Sheffield — There is a very significant buzz around the aerial drone program at the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, and it is not just coming from the drones themselves. The Mt. Everett Regional School students in the program, which is being led by Technology Director Chris Thompson, are preparing for a competition that will be held in Winsted, Conn. on Saturday, March 18.

The students are taking part in the REC Foundation’s Vex Robotics programs and have been practicing their aerial drone control skills at the Undermountain Elementary School’s gymnasium. The foundation holds competitions across the country, and the group is taking part in the “Blackout” aerial drone competition. According to the competition’s website, the game is played on a 24’ by 24’ square field, with competitors using their aerial drones to buzz tennis balls from one part of the field, into a goal area.

Wyatt Alden, 12, navigates an aerial drone to push tennis balls from one side of the playing field toward the goals in a practice run for the “Blackout” competition. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Afterward, the aerial drone is navigated through several “keyhole gates” into a landing pad zone.

Wyatt Alden, 12, navigating an aerial drone through a “keyhole gate” during a practice run for the “Blackout” competition. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

The operator of the drone must take directions from a “flight navigator,” who gives them directions on how to land on a landing pad. The competitors have a time limit of two minutes for each round of play.

Zayre Traill, 13, gives directions to Nicolas Bruno, 12, during a practice run. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

“I want these students to have fun, first and foremost,” Thompson told The Berkshire Edge during a practice run. “I am looking for them to grow in their skills as a pilot and a coder. I want them to learn to work [as] a team and grow as a group together. But beyond all of that, I am looking to spark their interest and imagination in preparation for the advanced technological world that they will be entering one day. Drones are changing how work is done in many areas from agriculture, to security, to mapping, search and rescue, and even health care. Drone usage will continue to develop and grow and these students may find themselves working with this technology someday.”

Zayre Traill, 13, watching a drone being navigated during a practice run. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

The four students who are taking part in the program all expressed how they have been enjoying the program and have learned a lot from preparing for the competition. “We’ve gotten the ability to learn how [to] fly drones accurately and how to work with our teammates in order to fly them,” Zayre Traill, 13, said. “To us, it’s about teamwork and learning about technology. We’ve gotten out a lot of fun from this.”

Tonia Maynard, 13, flying an aerial drone around as part of a practice for the “Blackout” competition event. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.
School District Technology Director Chris Thompson showing Wyatt Alden, 12, the controls to one of the aerial drones. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

“It’s all about having fun with technology,” Thompson said. “They are all learning basic skills that can all come in handy for them in the future. Our students may eventually work in this type of industry, or they may work in some sort of computer science firm in some capacity. This could all be part of their futures.”

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