The hardest thing for youth to go through and understand is that being different is not a setback, but a strength.  Navigating FIRST and where the youth fits in is part of a mentor’s responsibility, but also the students.  Students should feel comfortable with all mentors on the team to be able to advocate their needs to help them navigate building a robot, helping documentation/awards, programming, team attributes, and all the other things a FIRST team does.

Advocating is typically taught in the home, but this takes time to learn and develop. Being a parent of a visually impaired child, I know firsthand that even the guidance and the help given to develop these skills can be difficult. Majority of the time youth are not ready to tell the world, I am unique and need assistance. This comes with time and patience, a luxury we usually do not have with team members with the schedules and limited time we have with the students.  Which then leads to misunderstandings and youth not learning and developing in the FIRST program.   

We as mentors should be there to help guide all youth to feel included in all aspects they want to help on the team.  It could be as simple as having the handouts in larger font, to sitting with them to help guide them through the handout.  If you see a student struggle, there may be many reasons and they may not be ready to ask or tell you.  That leads you into navigating a conversation with the students’ parents without asking the direct question.  This can be accomplished sometimes by just talking to the parent and asking for guidance on how to help the student succeed in that task or even what do you and the student want to achieve in being part of the team and how can we help make that a reality.

Each person is unique in their own way, and we need to respect that and grow with them to help them succeed in today’s world.  Inclusion starts with YOU!

Here is a link to get you started – 6 Tips to learn to self-advocate

Inclusion Quick Takes

  • Respect individual contributions and timeline
  • Ask a parent for guidance, when you are unsure 
  • Each person is unique
  • We all have a role to play

About the Author

Serving as a mentor since 2011, Elise Cronin-Hurley also served as a Team Lead of 4-H Exploding Bacon Robotics Team 1902 from 2016 - 2019.  She volunteers and judges at numerous FIRST events, on regional planning committees, with the FIRST Hall of Fame, and has conducted workshops on imagery, chairman's and team organization. By day she is a freelance web and graphic designer. Read More about Elise