Why new Congressman Harder was at school on a Sunday

Members of the Iron Patriots, Beyer High School’s robotics team, got a visit Sunday afternoon from Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, as they worked toward upcoming contests they hope will earn them a third trip to the FIRST Robotics Competition world championships.

The newly elected congressman spent nearly an hour talking with students, teachers, parent boosters and mentors. He came away impressed and pledging to help efforts to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Harder and his staff have been on the job only a few weeks and still are getting their feet on the ground, he told dozens of students assembled before him, and “one of the things we’re really trying to champion is STEM education and how important it is to the Valley.”

Talking earlier with a small group of parents, he said it seems like a no-brainer that companies here should want to connect with, support and invest in programs like Beyer’s that are teaching skills they need in employees. Teacher Heidi Pagani added that getting local companies involved also informs students that they don’t necessarily have to look to places like the Silicon Valley for careers in tech fields.

Harder asked students about their college and career plans and urged them to bring what they learn back to Stanislaus County. After viewing a demonstration on visual tracking technology, he talked about real-world applications in agriculture and other areas for a lot of the things students are learning.

The Beyer robotics program began seven years ago with just nine students. It now has more than 40 students, and not just from Beyer. Kids from Enochs, Riverbank and Big Valley Christian also take part.

Right now, the students are working furiously to build a robot that can meet several challenges set forth in the 2019 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics game, “Destination: Deep Space.” The game was announced Jan. 5, and participating teams have until Feb. 19 to build their robots. That explains the weekend session.

The game simulates deploying robots to collect samples on a planet with unpredictable terrain and weather patterns, placing hatch panels on rockets and cargo ships and loading the cargo. Each team races an opponent and the next sandstorm on “Planet Primus.”

The main fundraiser to support Beyer Robotics, its annual spaghetti dinner and silent auction, is coming up Jan. 31 at Beyer, 1717 Sylvan Ave. It will be held in the school “scramble” from 5 to 7 p.m. Cost is $10 adults, $8 students and $35 for a family of four. Tickets may be purchased at the door.

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.