Bethany Meehan-Poulin, a special education teacher at Dirigo Elementary and Dirigo High schools in Dixfield, joins students and a helper at T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School examine a robot kit. From left are Meehan-Poulin, students  Joe Conron and Emma MacFarlane, and Region 9 School of Applied Technology fire science instructor Jon Longley. (Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson)

DIXFIELD — Bethany Meehan-Poulin, a special education teacher at Dirigo Elementary and Dirigo High schools, said she was totally surprised she’d won a robot kit for Regional School Unit 56, along with registration and travel costs to a robotics competition next year.

Bethany Meehan-Poulin, a special education teacher at Dirigo Elementary and Dirigo High schools, listens to T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School student Joe Conron talk about parts of the robot kit she won for the Regional School District 56. (Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson)

“I was in the kitchen at home and I kept pacing and going ‘What? What?'” she said, when she got the call.

“I thought it was amazing so I wrote the principals and all of them were like, ‘What does this even mean?’”

Besides the robot kit, the winnings from FIRST Tech Challenge include the cost of the team registration and travel to the robotics competition next year. It’s valued at about $2,250.

“The terrific thing with this opportunity is the ability to travel to the competition. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for students,” Meehan-Poulin said.

“The kids also become ‘alumni’ of the program and gain access to $80 million in scholarships to colleges and tech schools,” she said. “It also opens up internship and networking opportunities.”

Poulin found out about the contest while she was reviewing information from EF Tours, a company the school is using for a science, technology, engineering and math trip to Boston and New York in April 2020 for Dixfield students in grades six through 12.

To help students at T.W. Kelly Middle School in Dixfield learn about the robot kit and how to build robots — and to help to create a robotics team — Jon Longley, a Region 9 School of Applied Technology fire science instructor, will work with them during their activity period.

Longley regularly joins them to explore career and tech education opportunities.

Students will be partnered with high school computer technology students at Region 9 to work on the robot kit there and at the middle school, Longley said.

“Hopefully, the long-term goal is to prepare and make a team for next year, so we can go and compete,” he said.

“Some of these kids learn best with their hands and we understand that,” Longley said.

On Friday, eighth-graders Joe Conron and Emma MacFarlane joined Longley in examining the kit. MacFarlane said she had helped her father with plumbing, and Conron said he’s wired a lamp.

Ryan Abbott, a sixth-grader, said building a robot will be fun.

“It’s just making stuff come alive, like you see stuff move that you created,” he said. “It could play basketball; that would be fun.”

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