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PTA sponsors after-school classes at Pivik Elementary

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Plum Advance Leader
Robots built by Pivik Elementary School students battle until one of them is pushed outside the box. The class is taught by Sorin Achim, designer of award winning soccer playing robots at Carnegie Mellon.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
Jaionna Vining, a third grader at Pivik Elementary School smoothes the moistened paper over the mold. Under the direction of Oblock Junior High teacher Bill DePew, Pivik Elementary students are learning to make masks as part of an afterschool program.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
McKenna Florek, a Pivik Elementary School fourth grader is making sure all the air bubbles are rubbed smooth as she works on her mask. Under the direction of Oblock Junior High teacher Bill DePew, Pivik students are learning to make masks as part of an afterschool program.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
The hands of sixth grader Kellie Mitchell are hard at work on her mask.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
Pivik Elementary School kindergartener Gino Mangone is making sure his paper strips are thoroughly soaked in the water as he works on his mask.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Plum Advance Leader
Jeffrey Yan, Ashley Sullivan, Matthew Kay and Juelean Clisby work on their design before putting the bot to the test against the another bot. The Pivik Elementary School students are taking part in a robotics-themed afterschool program at the school. The class is taught by Sorin Achim, designer of award-winning soccer playing robots at Carnegie Mellon University.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Plum Advance Leader
Adam Garvin, Dylan Nichols and Ryan Coughlin test their robot before challenging their opponent at an afterschool robotics class at Pivik Elementary School. The class is taught by Sorin Achim, designer of award winning soccer playing robots at Carnegie Mellon.

Dylan Nichols is a fourth-grader with plans for the future.

“I want to be a roller-coaster designer,” said Nichols, 10, a student at Pivik Elementary School.

Nichols and about a dozen other Pivik students in second through sixth grades are spending a couple of hours after classes Tuesdays building robots from Legos that have real sensors, computers and motors.

The robotics class is one of a few being sponsored by the Pivik PTA. Others are ultimate video game design and Art Stars.

Mandy Kmonk, after-school program coordinator for the PTA, said the activities provide new learning experiences for students, particularly for those not involved in sports.

“For those who are not athletes, it gives them something to do after school,” Kmonk said.

The robotics and ultimate game design classes each cost $65.

The Art Stars program that serves as an extra art class for students in kindergarten through sixth grade costs $35.

Kmonk said the fee goes toward snacks for the children, paying the instructors and to the PTA.

Sorin Achim, an engineer who founded Instant Robotics, a company that helps companies make decisions about robotics technologies, is the instructor for the robotics class.

Achim was born in Romania and obtained his master of science in electrical engineering from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering of the Romanian Defense Department.

Achim, 49, of O'Hara, also was a robotics research engineer at Carnegie Mellon University.

He started instructing children in robotics after his son's teacher asked Achim to conduct a class.

“I had bought a robotic system for my son,” Achim said. “He built it and took it to school.”

Achim teaches the youngsters how to build the robots, program them, improve the programming and battle them.

The students work in teams and are scheduled to give a technical presentation on the robots to their family members and friends Tuesday — the last day of class.

“It's a good way to get kids interested in engineering,” Achim said.

Ashley Sullivan, a fifth-grader, enjoys seeing the movements of the robots after they are programmed.

“I was hoping it would be a fun class, and it turned out to be fun,” said Sullivan, 10.

Matthew Kay, 8, a second-grader, wants to be a scientist and enjoys working in a team.

“I liked learning how the robots have sensors and information comes into them,” Kay said.

Oblock Junior High School art teacher Bill DePew leads the Art Stars program at Pivik.

About 25 students are spending three Tuesday afternoons in April making masks.

Depew began the class last week by showing the children masks made by African tribesmen.

“It (the Art Stars program) is a good way to promote the arts,” Depew said.

McKenna Florek plans to make a zebra print mask to go with the décor in her room.

“I like doing art,” Florek said. “I did a painting that my mom hung in her office at work.”

The last day for the class is April 25.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or

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