JEFFERSON — Jefferson High School has started a new robotics/engineering program.

The program, which will continue to add a class each year until it becomes a full, four-year program, is taught by district Director of Technology Jeremy Peeler.

Peeler has been leading the extracurricular after-school program at the junior high for the past several years and decided high school students also should be allowed to have the opportunity to study robotics while receiving high school credit.

"I'm so glad they added this class this year," student Zackery Williamson said. "I love to build, and we get to build in here. I'm planning to go on to the U.S. Army to become a battlefield technician. I love this class."

The high school students also meet after school for the extracurricular First Tech Challenge program that builds robots to compete against other schools and also makes the students eligible for college scholarships.

"I'm hoping to get a scholarship through this, if we do well enough," senior John Cook said.

Eleven students, grades 9 through 12, participate in the after-school FTC program. Peeler said he is continuing the junior high after-school program called First Lego League.

The concept of putting Peeler, a technology professional, in the classroom also is new for the school.

"It's a new shift, getting professionals back in to teach, especially in career and technology education courses," Peeler said. "This is a perfect fit for what I've always been doing."

The after-school robotics team will begin competing against other Northeast Texas schools in November.

"I really like the competitions," freshman Hannah Whitfield said. "I also love the building part. I'm planning to study chemical engineering after graduation. I was on the junior high robotics team for four years."

Peeler said as the program grows each year, he will add courses such as electronics and advanced electronics.

"These programs ... have scouts at the competitions, and they are tagging these kids for careers down the road," Peeler said. "This year's FTC team name is Steel Rebellion."

The students also will be the first to work with and program a new training robot purchased this summer by the district.

"Nao is a robot that will be used as a teaching platform," Peeler said. "We can program it to do different tasks and follow commands. It can hold objects and has sensors on its body. It has cameras in its eyes and can perform facial recognition. I'm hoping to program it to eventually take classroom attendance by using facial recognition to recognize the students."

Peeler said Jefferson High School is the only school in the area to get to work with a robot such as Nao in its robotics program.

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