The legend of Santa Claus is based on the 4th century Saint Nicholas, a Greek Christian bishop who became famous for his generosity towards children in particular. His most famous origin story is one in which he saved three young girls from being sold into slavery with the gift of a dowry. Saint Nicholas’s story grew in popularity evolving into a patron who brought peace and joy to the children of the world by ensuring that they had what was needed for a happy life. Today, Santa Claus is one of the most recognized figures throughout the world. And while much of his original generosity has been translated into consumerism, many still adhere to the original message of Saint Nicholas, to provide for children in need.
Though he probably wouldn’t call himself a modern day Santa, Richard D. Bell is certainly embodying the spirit of Saint Nicholas. Bell established the Kids First Initiative (KFI) out of Auburn Hills, MI to provide students meaningful experiences with STEAM based education that would ultimately guide them towards a successful career path. ” I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that we have outstanding young people here in this country,” Bell said, “but the question is how do we get them from point A to point B.” With KFI, educators get kids to point B not by thinking outside of the box, but by completely rethinking the box and engaging kids in the technology that is shaping the future.
KFI provides students in need with several programs that embrace STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics), career pathways, and food security. Besides the incredible staff at KFI, one of the best tools Bell has found to accomplish the program missions are drones. Kids are naturally amazed by drones. Using drones in an educational setting covers all the basics of STEAM principles from design, artistry, coding, and construction. In a standard classroom setting, absorbing all of these skills can be hard for many children. But when you give them a hands on opportunity with a tool like a drone, the learning happens organically.
This past year has been extremely difficult because of the global spread of COVID-19. The education system has greatly been affected by quarantines and social distancing requirements. KFI had to rethink outside the box on how to continue supporting the children of Auburn Hills. One thing that the world has learned while battling the coronavirus, is that drones can make the world a better place. Drones have played a major part in enforcing social distancing, sanitizing communal areas, keeping people employed, and delivering essential packages.
Bell knew that he and his staff were in a position to not only help their community in this trying time but to engage and bring joy while keeping kids interested in STEAM subjects. Since the beginning of KFI, one of its biggest events has been providing communities with holiday meals and gifts for kids. This year they had to cancel the meal gatherings because of safety regulations, but that didn’t stop KFI from feeding those in need. Instead, Bell took one of his drones to the sky to deliver food and cheer.
As Bell is not a commercial drone operator he could not make deliveries like how Amazon and Walmart are beginning to use drones. Bell and some volunteers filled stockings with small toys and gift cards to local restaurants. They drove to the homes of the students they work with and launched the drone from the sidewalk with the stocking dangling below. Excited kids watched as the pilot worked to keep the drone steady in strong winds. Sometimes the stocking was able to drop, other times the drone had to be landed for the stocking to be removed. Either way, the children were filled with joy and wonder at watching the drone and receiving a special package. Without even realizing it, the kids were being encouraged to learning about STEAM!
For some of the older children in the communities KFI serves, they have been fortunate enough to maintain educational career path programs because of drones. Students are learning how to pilot drones and use them for filming and mapping. Bell and KFI are not Santa and his workshop of magical elves. They are something far more important. They are working to see that kids grow up with opportunities that will positively shape their futures. As it is stated on KFI’s website, “Our kids hear and they forget. They see and they remember. They do and they understand.” KFI believes that simply teaching kids about STEAM is not enough, you need to put the lessons in the kid’s hands. Drones will be a major driving force of economic growth, and getting kids engaged with drones today will set them up for success as adults.