Community leaders learn more about BEST

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Johnny Moss, Selma Hub director for Friends of Best in Alabama, spoke with residents Tuesday morning about the importance of the robotics program, and how it teaches students the importance of math and science in the work force. -- Sarah Cook

With their eggs and bacon, local business leaders and educators also received valuable information about the Friends of BEST in Alabama program while attending Eggs and Education Tuesday morning at the Convention Center.

Friends of Best in Alabama is a program designed to get middle school and high school students excited about math and science through engineering a robot.

Robin Fenton, state director for the program, asked attendees at the breakfast to imagine a community where students are excited about industry and career development, because this is what Friends of BEST offers.

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“Imagine a community where kids are learning the cutting edge technology that is used by business and industry,” Fenton said. “These kids understand what a good work ethic is, they understand hard work.”

Fenton said Friends of BEST gives students the tools to achieve this “perfect community” because it teaches them how to apply their education in a real-world setting.

The program, which began in Texas as a grass-roots initiative, launched in Alabama a few years ago, and Selma was one of 21 Alabama communities targeted to participate because it falls under a high-unemployment community, Fenton said.

“Teachers started calling and wanting to put this program in the classroom,” she said. “They wanted to know what they could do to keep the kids connected and how to keep them learning.”

Janis Stewart, state coordinator for the program, contacted area schools in the Black Belt to see if they would be interested in participating.

“We had a grant that would only cover about eight to 12 schools,” Fenton said. “But it turns out 40 schools ended up expressing interest.”

This is the first year that Selma will serve as a hub (competition center) for the program. Fenton said she wouldn’t be surprised if two or three more hubs pop up in Alabama by the end of the competition.

Teams received materials to make their robots this past Saturday at Wallace Community College and they have 42 days to construct their robot. On Nov. 3, they will reconvene at Wallace, the Selma hub, for the competition. Winners will advance to Auburn University for the regional competition.

Johnny Moss, hub director, said this should be an exciting year for the students.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen students so excited about education,” Moss said. “Last summer, we took out students to Honda Lock so they could see how the robots move and actually work in a real-world application.”

Although the program has experienced immense success, both Fenton and Moss said help is still needed.

“We always need volunteers,” Fenton said. “We need people for the A-team, that’s the group of people that really develop this in the community.”

Moss also said volunteers are especially needed for game day (competition day), because it takes hundreds of people to make it successful.

“It’ll be a real wild and crazy day,” Fenton said. “But mostly it will be a great challenge for the students.”

For more information on how to get involved, visit