At The Baldwin School, we encourage our girls to reach for their dreams, taking whatever path they are most passionate about. We have scientists, scholars and poets. We have athletes and artists. And we have computer programmers, designers and robotic engineers.
Our DREAM LabⓇ program has been instrumental in creating opportunities to explore paths in the STEM fields. One particular initiative has been to introduce our girls to the First Lego League. This competition involves over 320,000 students from 95 countries across the globe.
This year involved several historic “firsts.” There was enough interest to form four teams – three teams of students from grades 4-5 and for the first time, a team representing grades 6-8. In total we had 30 girls involved – more than double from past years.
Two teams also won awards – and one will proceed to the regional championships at the University of Pennsylvania in February. They will be the first team to represent Baldwin at the championship since the inception of our program.
All four teams took part in regional competitions – two teams participated at Springside Chestnut Hill School and two at the Franklin Institute.
The program consists of three components, called “strands.” Within the Robotics strand, students must build a robot and program it to solve specific missions. They also need to present their progress to a panel of judges. The Core Values strand focuses on how students demonstrate their understanding of the FIRST® philosophies of Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® through core values like discovery, innovation, inclusion and teamwork. Along with being observed throughout the competition, they must prepare a poster board and design t-shirts.
Within the Project strand, students must define a problem within the season’s theme, propose a solution, create a prototype, speak with an expert, share their work outside the community and present to a panel of judges. This year’s theme was ‘Into Orbit’ and participants were tasked with finding and solving a physical or social problem faced by humans during long duration space exploration. Students needed to identify a tangible problem they could prove exists.
Our four teams took this challenge and, as quintessential Baldwin girls, came up with very creative ideas. The Solar DREAMers, made up of Tisya Desai ‘27, Cianni Hill ‘27, Melina Intzes ‘26, Anais Piquion ’26, Ayesha Sayeed ‘26, Piper Skoglund ‘26, Maya Soldatovich ‘26 and Natalya Spychalski ’27 learned that nearly 80% of astronauts can get Space Motion Sickness (SMS). They created a prototype of an auto injectable wristband that injects medicine into the astronaut when the band detects high temperature/fast or slow heart rate.
The Thinking Girls, made up of Bella Alimansky ‘27, Olivia Choo ‘26, Cydnei Crisden ‘27, Evelyn Jean ‘26, Leah Roman ‘27, Camila Tobon ‘26 and Daphne Yorks ‘26 discovered that bones and muscles weaken in space because there is no gravity and while there are already solutions to mitigate this, like exercise machines, they take up a lot of space. They designed a prototype comprised of six resistance bands to do different stretches, all connected to a belt. Judges noticed their tenacity and “never say die” attitude on event day – they managed to figure out two additional missions that moved their score into the top 40% of scores for the robot strand, thus securing their spot at the championship.
The Robo Heroes, made up of Thea Dunckel ‘26, Maya Fey ‘27, Laila Gopalani ‘26, Anya Henry ‘26, Nina Heverin-Alvarado ‘26, Harper Lawson ‘27 and Amelia McCullough ‘26 realized people who experience extended space travel don’t see their families for a long period of time and this can cause anxiety or depression. They created a Virtual Reality version of an astronaut’s house. This would be loaded to a Flash Drive and sent with astronauts for use in space. The house would include the ability to interact with family members back on Earth. They won a Project Award in the area of Research for their innovative virtual reality solution.
The Dream Team, made up of Eve Alimansky ‘25, Tori Benjamin ‘25, Israel Carter ‘25, Rachel Gopalani ‘23, Grace Harvey ‘25, Eliana Jean ‘24, Nikoletta Kuvaeva ‘25 and Emily Sidlow ‘’25 had another approach to the problem of depression during deep space travel. Working the concept of a Tesla suit, created primarily for gamers, they designed a hug vest that simulates the pressure, smell and height of a loved one’s hug using haptic technology.
Teams must divide and conquer and stay extremely organized. The work, including all research and development, was led by the students. Although DREAM LabⓇ Coordinators Stephanie Greer and Addison Lilholt and Grade 3 Teacher Peter Greenhalgh act as facilitators, they were as hands off as possible, encouraging the girls to solve their own problems. The teams met after school twice a week and practiced in the evenings and weekends, beginning in August. While they each had their own projects, they had to learn to share materials, space and coaches and accommodate each other throughout the journey.
The program takes hard work, drive and perseverance. It also involves a lot of fun – our students discover the power of their own imaginations as they learn to apply STEM concepts to solve a real world problem. Along their journey, they’re developing critical-thinking and team-building skills, presentation skills and good sportsmanship.
“What is important about this program is that it’s unlike any other academic experience for students this age. They’re given an enormous set of tasks, a timeline, a space to learn and adults to facilitate. But it’s up to them to make this work. They’re learning project management and leadership skills. They’re discovering real world consequences. You take your work into a public arena where it’s viewed by the public and you learn how to get feedback,” said Ms. Greer.
This year is truly special for Ms. Greer. “I have been on the Regional Steering Committee for FLL at the University of Pennsylvania for 8 years,” she explained. “I am the regional head Core Values judge and regularly provide training and professional development on different facets of the FLL program for coaches and judges in the region. I have attended every championship in the capacity of judge for the last 9 years. This is the first time I will get to take one of my teams to the championships at Penn – it is also the last year Penn will run the region, and so it is my last year on the committee and the last year Championships will be hosted by Penn. I’m grateful to get to take a team before a new committee takes over.”
Beyond the wonderful academic benefits, this is an extraordinary experience for our girls. The program provides them with a supportive community to learn more about themselves and discover a love for science. “It’s where some kids find their tribe. This is where they find a place with a ton of other kids who are in love with STEM too,” said Ms. Greer.