'Young Thinkers' looking for more York City representation

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

At the Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy Open House in August, there was one display that attracted parents and students alike: the one with moving Lego parts.

Young Thinkers of York 2017 team.

The table belonged to Ray Ames, a West Manchester Township resident and founder of the York County nonprofit Young Thinkers of York, which was looking for members to join the ranks of its fledgling robotics club.

“We were a big hit,” Ames said. “I had so many parents come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for starting this program because it’s needed.’”

Lego fun: The program brings seven middle school students from five York County schools together deep inside Martin Library, which has given them a space in the West Market Street building’s basement.

The twice-weekly sessions have students collaboratively coming up with new ways to program Lego Mindstorm robots to perform certain tasks within an 8-by-4-foot table.

The Young Thinkers of York’s robotics team, called RoboThinkers, uses a format developed by the international student robotics competition First Lego League. The league has students from around the world competing to create the most innovative and efficient devices for completing an obstacle course within a certain amount of time and without crashing.

Ames says the program helps students learn teamwork and social and critical-thinking skills that will help them succeed in school and in the workforce later in life.

Ames's son Ryan, a student at York Country Day School, was the inaugural member of the group, switching from his school’s FLL team to RoboThinkers, which was just formed this past year.

“I like that pretty much no two teams could be the same,” 12-year-old Ryan said.

Ames went all over the county to find the seven students. He even found one, JaMari Sanchez, 13, while JaMari was helping his mother at a restaurant.

“He started telling my mom about how this could be good for me,” JaMari said of Ames.

York City untapped: Ames said a club like RoboThinkers is exactly what York City is in need of at the moment.

“Right now, you’ve got tens of thousands of STEM-related jobs that cannot be filled because they don’t have the people qualified to do it,” he said.

“We have this whole entire population that don’t even have the background to fill those spots. Why? Because the majority of the STEM programs are not in the city programs, they’re in the suburban programs and in private schools.”

Ames said he would like to change that.

“If kids don’t even have the exposure in the first place, how do they even know that they have an interest in a STEM field?” he added.

“How can you say you don’t like pizza if you’ve never tried pizza?”

Ames is now looking forward to seeing his proteges compete in the Pennsylvania East FLL Tournament taking hold at Penn State Berks on Feb. 3.

By next year, Ames plans on increasing RoboThinkers’ membership from seven students to 24, with 12 students coming from York City Schools.

“We need students from inner-city schools to be represented,” he said, adding that he hopes students from the Smith STEAM Academy will rise up to start a new generation of young thinkers in York City.