The values of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC)—gracious professionalism, coopertition (cooperation and competition), and good sportsmanship—align directly with Durham Academy’s (DA) values for helping each student achieve personal growth in an atmosphere that is both supportive and challenging. Our programs at DA aim to provide students with opportunities to discover creativity within themselves and to develop habits that lead to moral behavior, responsible action, and the growth of character.

FRC supports this mission. Therefore, in fall of 2016, Durham Academy launched a rookie FRC team: The Durham Academy Robotics Club – Students in Design and Engineering (DARC SIDE) to participate in the 2017 competition season. Student enthusiasm carries our team. Through hands-on experience, students learn how to use tools, apply scientific and mathematical concepts, design the robot, prototype, work with circuits, design strategies for competition, program and troubleshoot the robot, and acquire many other engineering skills. With the guidance of mentors Mr. Forrest Beck and Mrs. Leyf Starling, students also develop skills necessary for lifelong success, no matter which career path the students choose to follow. These include, but are not limited to, improved communication skills, time management, organization skills, and collaboration. As members of this team, students must communicate with diverse audiences and develop sportsmanship skills during competition.

Additionally, the DARC SIDE aims to promote inclusion and accessibility in FRC. With 32% of its members diagnosed with LD and/or ADHD, the DARC SIDE hopes to provide a meaningful opportunity for students with disabilities to participate in the FRC experience. In addition to encouraging students at DA to participate, we actively recruit students to participate on our team by partnering with The Hill Center, a school for students with diagnosed learning differences and attention difficulties. The Hill Center and Durham Academy share an institutional affiliation agreement and strive for opportunities to unite their campuses and student bodies, as appropriate.

In our inaugural 2017 season, the team had 13 DA students and surpassed our highest expectations. Originally scheduled to compete in only two district challenges, the team also qualified for and competed in both the state and world championships. Along the way, the team earned the Rookie All-Star Award in North Carolina and the Judge’s Award in our division at worlds.