In Franklin, the high school’s robotics team educates others about mental health

The students on Franklin High School’s robotics team are problem solvers by nature, but for this group of teens, their desire to find solutions goes beyond troubleshooting their robot.

Members of Franklin’s FIRST robotics team were recognized earlier this month for their work in compiling and distributing mental health resource packs in robotic competitions to spread information about teen mental health.

The award they received at Battle of the Bay, an off-season robotic competition in Alton, was for “gracious professionalism,” a FIRST Robotics term that refers to helping others succeed and showing respect for one another and the community to demonstrate.

“We live in Franklin in a community that has a lot of issues, particularly mental health issues,” said Senior Pierre Guillotte, the team’s captain. “It’s a good thing that we can do, something that people in the community can look at and say, ‘Wow, that’s nice.’ Something people can be proud of and something that can help the community.”

The team, which numbers about 14 members this year, began making mental health packs in 2020, when the pandemic was first hit. Each package is a ziplock bag containing a squishy fidget toy, information leaflets with crisis center and hotline numbers, and mental health fact sheets. At competitions, the team keeps a container with packets at their workplace, and during free moments they walk around and distribute them to other participants.

The packages were popular. The students at an event last year said they gave out 200 packets in 90 minutes and needed more. Sometimes at the competitions they meet people who are open about their own mental health problems. Last school year, in a competition involving about 40 teams from across New England, students learned that three different teams killed a former teammate by suicide.

Sophomore Savaughna Slocum, the team’s safety captain, says mental health should be looked at as an element of team safety.

“Typically, when you think about safety, you think about tripping, falling and getting a band-aid,” Slocum said. “But we are committed to mental health because 1 in 5 teenagers express mental health concerns and only 50% are getting the right treatment they need. We want people to know that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s easier for them to reach out when they need help themselves or to help someone in need get the help they need. “

Mental health is an issue that matters to many team members. For sophomore Harrison Kaplan, who killed a cousin by suicide, it’s a way to offer support to others who are struggling.

“This could save someone else from the same thing happening to them,” Kaplan said.

The mental health packages are far from the first non-profit project the robotics team has taken on. In the 2018/2019 school year, the association created Franklin High’s Karma Korner, a free anonymous pantry full of donated clothing, toiletries, and school supplies for students to take home. In winter, the team collects coats to give to needy students.

“One of the most important things we try to teach our students is that 40% of what FIRST is about is your robot,” said paraprofessional Leda Guillotte, the club’s counselor. “FIRST is all about developing STEM skills and soft skills that you don’t get in the classroom. They learn to write business plans, create safety plans, get along with people and network and do public relations, and cultivate impactful, long-lasting relationships within their team families and their communities.”

The students said they knew of some robotics teams from well-funded schools who travel to volunteer in other countries. Franklin’s team believes they can make a difference in their own city.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to do that,” said Matthew Nason, the team’s second-year co-captain. “So we’re doing it in the community so we can still help.”

With help from the Franklin Savings Bank, the team bought a washer and dryer for the school so students can wash their clothes when needed.

The team was also the driving force behind the addition of six new STEM classes at Franklin High, including computer science, manufacturing, and machine tool math.

The team already has their sights set on their next endeavor: raising money to buy an automated external defibrillator (AED) to take to competitions and getting their team members certified in first aid. They are looking for a donor who is willing to pay half the cost of the AED while they fund the other half. Franklin Superintendent Dan LeGallo has agreed to pay for the team’s certification.

“It’s a robotics team, but outreach is important to us,” said Pierre Guillotte. “As we’ve seen over the years, small changes we made in Franklin have had an impact throughout the Lakes region. It’s something we thought we could do to better ourselves and the community.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at any time by dialing 988.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *