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Hopkinton students, parents rally around science, technology program

  • Junior Will Lalancette of Hopkinton High School's FIRST Robotics Team make a presentation about the importance of continuing the Project Lead the Way curriculum at Hopkinton's School Board Meeting at the Maple Street School; Tuesday, May 7, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Junior Will Lalancette of Hopkinton High School's FIRST Robotics Team make a presentation about the importance of continuing the Project Lead the Way curriculum at Hopkinton's School Board Meeting at the Maple Street School; Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Teacher Will Renauld speaks to Hopkinton's School Board during their Meeting at the Maple Street School about the importance of them finding a full-time replacement for him upon his retirement; Tuesday, May 7, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Teacher Will Renauld speaks to Hopkinton's School Board during their Meeting at the Maple Street School about the importance of them finding a full-time replacement for him upon his retirement; Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Linda Lalancette (right) hands a tissue to Jackie Mellen (left) after Mellen finished speaking to the Hopkinton School Board about about the importance of continuing the Project Lead the Way curriculum during the school board meeting at the Maple Street School; Tuesday, May 7, 2013. Mellen, a mentor on Hopkinton's Robotics team, watched cuts to the art department eliminate classes her daughter Jess was depending on this past year, and she does not want to see that happen to the engineering classes as well.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Linda Lalancette (right) hands a tissue to Jackie Mellen (left) after Mellen finished speaking to the Hopkinton School Board about about the importance of continuing the Project Lead the Way curriculum during the school board meeting at the Maple Street School; Tuesday, May 7, 2013. Mellen, a mentor on Hopkinton's Robotics team, watched cuts to the art department eliminate classes her daughter Jess was depending on this past year, and she does not want to see that happen to the engineering classes as well.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Junior Will Lalancette of Hopkinton High School's FIRST Robotics Team make a presentation about the importance of continuing the Project Lead the Way curriculum at Hopkinton's School Board Meeting at the Maple Street School; Tuesday, May 7, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Teacher Will Renauld speaks to Hopkinton's School Board during their Meeting at the Maple Street School about the importance of them finding a full-time replacement for him upon his retirement; Tuesday, May 7, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Linda Lalancette (right) hands a tissue to Jackie Mellen (left) after Mellen finished speaking to the Hopkinton School Board about about the importance of continuing the Project Lead the Way curriculum during the school board meeting at the Maple Street School; Tuesday, May 7, 2013. Mellen, a mentor on Hopkinton's Robotics team, watched cuts to the art department eliminate classes her daughter Jess was depending on this past year, and she does not want to see that happen to the engineering classes as well.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Hopkinton High School’s robotics and engineering program is not in jeopardy. That was the message Superintendent Steve Chamberlin delivered to parents and students concerned it might be reduced next year when teacher and longtime robotics team leader Will Renauld leaves the district.

“It’s part of our brand,” Chamberlin said in an interview yesterday, referring to the school’s science and technology offerings, which include a robotics team and the national curriculum program Project Lead the Way, which is similar to Advanced Placement but limited to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, courses.

Several students and parents involved with the program spoke at a school board meeting Tuesday, praising the robotics team and Renauld’s leadership since co-founding it eight years ago.

Renauld, 57, is retiring from public education at the end of this year and has accepted a teaching position at St. Paul’s private school in Concord. He said his decision was influenced in part by a concern that future declines in enrollment might force administrators to reduce his position from full- to part-time.

Since learning of Renauld’s retirement, parents and students have been concerned that the district may allow the program to shrink through attrition.

That fear is based on a similar reduction administrators made this year to the visual arts and drama programs, after the retirement and resignation of two arts teachers.

“We don’t think you can replace Renauld with a part-time teacher. (The program) won’t have the cohesion it has now. It won’t be as strong,” said Jackie Mellen, a parent and mentor on the team. “So we pretty much demanded that they replace him with a full-time position.”

Message received, said Chamberlin.

“It just reinforced my view of the importance of the program,” he said, noting that there hadn’t previously been any discussion about cutting or reducing it.

Chamberlin did acknowledge, though, that reductions this year to the arts had gone too far.

“Frankly, attrition took too high a toll on the arts,” he said. “And I look forward to rebuilding those programs.”

The robotics team has grown substantially from its early years, when it had a membership of just 10 to 15 students, said Jeff Beltramo, an engineering teacher at New Hampshire Technical Institute and co-founder of the club with Renauld. The team now averages about 30 students, he said.

The team, called Oz-Ram, competes yearly in local and national robotics competitions, constructing bots that can do everything from kick and grab objects to maneuver around obstacles. Renauld said students who have been on the team and taken Project Lead the Way classes have gone on to study at colleges such as the University of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clarkson University and Rochester Institute of Technology.

“You just see tremendous growth in the kids,” he said.

Beltramo, who serves as a mentor to the group, had a similar perspective. “They come in with very limited experience,” he said. “By the time they leave, it’s like I’m talking to a fellow engineer. We see that year in and year out.”

Will Lalancette, a junior who has been on the team since his freshman year, said the experience of applying scientific ideas to tangible objects has helped him realize he wants to study mechanical rather than biological engineering, hoping to one day help develop prosthetic limbs. Renauld has been a huge influence, he noted.

“Mr. Renauld has been the guiding light in my high school career,” Lalancette said. “He’s always been there for me to talk to. It feels less like he’s a teacher and more a close friend.”

Kevin St. Laurent, an electrical engineer who mentors the team and whose daughter Kelly, a senior, has been on it since her freshman year, said he appreciates that the competitions expose students to a variety of disciplines, including web and graphic design, writing and public speaking. He said Kelly plans to attend RIT and major in electrical engineering with a minor in writing.

Beltramo said he wished he’d had similar science and technology options when he was in high school.

“Without a doubt I would have gravitated to it,” he said. “In the end it worked out, I found engineering. But I watch these kids going through Project Lead the Way and see how far ahead of the game they are, and I’m a little jealous.”

This story has been amended to reflect the following corrections: a previous version misspelled Jackie Mellen and Will Renauld’s last names.

(Jeremy Blackman can by reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

Legacy Comments1

This is a great program. Our school has it too. I hope they keep it.

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