Mentor at a Title 1 School? help!

Do you mentor a FIRST (FRC) team at a “Title 1” (economically disadvantaged) school/community? I would be interested in your thoughts on the following questions. (of course, all are welcome to respond)

Student Engagement

  • I got into mentoring FIRST because the program gives kids valuable real-life skills (i.e. employer/college-desired skills), but how do you recruit/retain the kids that could benefit most from the experience?

    *(ex. James is a C/D student who built his own fixie bike but babysits his little cousins after school and can’t make build meetings. sans FIRST James ends up working at the tire shop his step-dad works at. With a FIRST experience ???) *

Despite a lot of personal outreach to kids like James. We have very few kids like him in the club.

Parent Engagement

  • How do you get parents (who work 2 - 3 jobs) involved in your club? (i.e. as mentors, bringing in food, transporting kids, showing up at events)

    (Julia’s dad owns a truck and some power tools, but he cleans offices on the weekend and consequently can’t help transport our robot to comp.)

And the Burnout Question

  • So you meet this small team at your local regional who built an amazing robot (puts boxes on the scale, actually does autonomous! ). The kids exude GP and have a functional scouting team, great drivers, cool mentors and tasty lunch delivered by parents. When you find out that they come from the part of town you’d avoid after dark, then you’re really impressed. What a great story :slight_smile:

But honestly, these are the goals/expectations that any teacher/mentor at a title 1 school would have for their club. How many lead mentor hours does it take to turn a dream like this into reality, to build this program?

(let’s just say at ~ 1000h/year I’m totally failing)

How do you do it?


P.S, a search of the archive did not turn up any posts on this. If you know of some good conversations that are out there. please LMK

The Tiki Techs are with you on this!

I have quite a lot to share on this subject.
The school we work out of is title 1 with over half the students on free/reduced lunch, ethnically diverse, migrant, etc…
Hawaii is a true melting pot of travelers.

We have completed our 8th FRC season, and I feel that I might have some helpful ideas/suggestions/thoughts by now…

Unfortunately, I am swamped finishing up from our crazy season.
Meeting, I hope, a few students to unpack our robot crate and get ready for our upcoming events.

Besides a thoughtful response to a post like this is best done offline and honestly should take many hours :smiley:

Please PM me with specific questions if and as you need. I will also work on a detailed response to this post.
I should have a reply by the beginning of next week to share with the CD community…


First post, so we’ll see how the formatting goes.

My name is Alexander Brown and I am a mentor for Team Orion #3240 which is based out of John Jay High School in San Antonio, Texas. I feel it is a unique team in some of the advantages and disadvantages received from being both a STEM based Magnet School, and a Title 1 school. I do not know what specific plan will work for your particular situation, but I’ll try to give some insight into the tactics that my team employs and why they work for our particular team.

I’ll try to target your questions in order, but it’ll be a bit of a read ::rtm:: .

Retention and recruiting:

In general, our team will receive students of two different cultures. Those that go in with the intention of pursuing a STEM career (generally, a magnet school student), and those who we managed to entice with shiny robots in passing (The vast majority). STEM career tracked students are the easiest to recruit, but it still isn’t easy. Our team works with the school (we have found that to be important) by getting involved in the magnet school recruiting fairs, open house nights, Freshmen introduction events, etc. to get the word out. We usually showcase one of the more impressive FRC robots in a safe area, along with some smaller FTC/vex robots for the incoming students to drive. We then have multiple student members available to talk one on one to the parents, and the students who come to these events. I highly recommend that the students do the talking. When the school year rolls around we have multiple team introductory meetings to try to catch as many freshmen as possible. Working with your school shop teachers is also effective in getting talented students who want more practice/projects/skills. Those students also help break the cultural stigma that can sometimes be found around robotics, and it may help to improve your recruiting in a title 1 school.

From there, we focus on freshmen retention. We find that with a high freshmen retention rate, recruiting from other grades is efficient without the mentors/teachers having to focus on them because the students recruit their friends and classmates.

Retaining students is complicated, as they have many reasons for and against their involvement. We look to build a program that provides value, and that the students know provides value. Beyond that, we try to provide as many times as possible for meetings and distributing the load among the students so that they aren’t required to be there everyday. We have two teachers who dedicate two hours to at least one day a week each during off-season, and a tremendous amount of time during the FRC season, BEST robotics season, and FTC season. We have found that by having multiple FTC teams we have increased freshmen retention as the competition is a little easier for them and earlier in the year, so they don’t lose interest. Beyond that, our team has a mildly moderated group chat for enhanced communication, and regular meals with each other to form bonds and friendship.

Parent Engagement

Back to the unique issues of our school. We have a few parents that are heavily involved during competitions that do a great job providing pre-made sandwiches and snacks (saves a lot of team money) and we love them for it. We also have one set of parents that will take the time out of their day to help out the teachers with some of the managerial side of the events we have (Love them too). These are often the exception. With the magnet school, a lot of the parents have to commute a large distance in rush hour traffic to get to the school. That makes things a hard sell. As for the non-magnet school parents, we rarely see or hear from them. We do try to involve them through having parent meetings and inviting them to competitions, but their is only so much we can do in that realm. Usually once they make it to a competition like FRC, they are much more impressed with their kid and are more forthcoming on the time they allow their children to be involved. That doesn’t necessarily mean the parents become more involved. This is something our team is working on. We are gradually increasing our communication and feedback with parents and we will see where that leads us in the future with increased parental involvement. Parental involvement is not just a team wide issue, but a school wide issue at our particular location.


This is a tough one. I joined this team as a Freshman at the school back around 2011, went on to captain the team, graduate, and return as an industry mentor. Throughout these years, I have put in more hours than I have bothered to count. We are on our third Lead Coach/Teacher/Mentor who is off to a great start this year. We have also had about a half dozen other mentors/teachers get involved and leave due to a large assortment of reasons. The best tactic we have found to work so far is to get other teachers involved during the off season by having them commit to ~1 day a week from the end of school to about 5:30~6:00pm which works out to avoid most of the rush hour traffic. By distributing the load and not being the only one, you’ll see more improvements and have less headaches. Providing an environment where families can comfortably get involved and have fun is also a good way to minimize the flack they receive for coming home during the wee hours of the night during the build season.


Recruit Freshmen by convincing them to give small through showing them how fun the competitions are, and what they can learn by being involved. Leaders will appear from among them, and over time they will develop to be talented (with a bit of effort on teaching them). Show the parents how fun things are, and what they can learn. Communicate, bond, grow together. The more teachers/mentors/team members you have giving pre-planned small amounts of consistent time, the harder it is for one to burnout. Don’t forget to have game nights and other bonding stuff between the parents/teachers/mentors as it will likely build trust. Good luck. It’s not easy, and it will more than likely take a couple years for you to see a return on your investment, as it takes time and dedication for a team to gain noticeable momentum.

This is what my team has learned throughout the years and mileage may vary as we are still constantly evolving and learning in an effort to improve. Hopefully it helps.

Outside of your questions, I recommend talking to other local teams, and coordinating with them more on event planning and such. Forming a community of local teams can lead to quick help when you need it most.

Have you seen the Diversity & Inclusion training modules made available by FIRST?

They are about 30 minute, interactive modules with a lot of scenarios, not unlike the ones you mentioned. The topics covered span a fairly wide range of topics for outreach and mention to the marginalized communities. The modules also help you identify weaknesses you may not be aware of to help you consider new steps you can take. An example that comes to mind for me is transportation - perhaps someone is able to participate after school for an hour or two but then would have no way getting home without a school bus…so think, how could you help this student?

From the FIRST website:

If you want to participate in the learning, you can click here for info. The link is also in my signature on every one of my posts. Feel free to message me if you have questions or post back here.

Let me start with saying that we are in no way a “disadvantaged” school. We do, however, have a few individual students that are. Also, having been a young mother myself in that situation, I do have a few suggestions.

We do have students that need to watch siblings after school,and we are lucky enough to be able to use one of our computer labs for “non - build activities”. Everyone not actively involved in building the robot hangs out there so its a pretty busy room. If the sibling is elementary age, we will encourage the student to bring them up to hang out with us. (Often they like to make buttons. And we NEVER have enough buttons) some of our parents as well will bring their younger children. Even if only for a short time, it will keep the member connected to the team and hopefully foster a love of STEM in the youngest student as well. (I know being able to bring my youngest with me when my oldest was young allowed me to be involved with her sports when I otherwise would not have been.)

Transportation is important, like jaredhk said. Also the cost of food and other things. We run our meetings from 5pm until 8pm and we make it clear the kids are asked to eat before they come in so we don’t deal with needing to find parents to make meals. (Also our mentors can’t get there until then because of work situations) we do however have full days on Sat during build season. We order pizza, ask kids to pitch in a few bucks. Anyone on free or reduced lunch doesn’t have to pay. We go to the same pizza place every week and they give us a big discount. We also have some patents that have been generous enough to “sponsor” kids for participation fees, food costs, and other things that creep up. This doesn’t get run through the program because of logistics, but if there is a child in need we will simply inform the parent that has offered to sponsor that someone needs it. (We have great parents) I don’t know if this could work with a corporate sponsor (probably wouldn’t be tax deductible) but maybe with a booster or something it could work.

It’s difficult enough to keep students without these issues engaged. It’s a tough fight, but I would like to thank you for fighting it. Its important to continue to encourage the students to do something, even if it seems like it’s not a lot. Keep them connected to the team even if they can’t physically be there. It can make such a huge diffrence.

We are a community team based out of the rural town of Salem NJ. We usually have between 9-15 students. It’s very hard to recruit and we try very hard. Most of our students hear of us through other students or through our outreach events. This year we had 7 seniors that are graduating, we have a focus on recruiting this summer because we need more students. Funds are very tough for our team. Most our funds come from community sponsors, family, companies that match donations, and our students sometimes even doing public road cleanups to get funds from the township. As far as transportation, many of our students carpool with another to make it easier. I have been in a carpool with students from The time I joined The team to The time I got a car. The students on our team understand that GP is very important and it’s what FIRST is all about.

Slidell High is a mixed bag. We have people with and without money, with and without technical skills, and parenting styles that range from helicopter to near-abandonment. (In previous years, two students lived at the head coach’s house in addition to his own children.) Getting and keeping those who can benefit most from the program is definitely harder than teaching them how to build a robot! We have not found any formula that works; each difficult case seems to be unique.
One thing that we find helps universally is to spread the load. Somehow, find and recruit mentors, whether other teachers, parents, or the guy who turns wrenches at the auto shop. Unless it’s a time issue, the first argument is always “but I don’t know anything about robots”. The best answer we’ve come up with so far is “No one on the team knew anything about robots until they got here. If you want to help with the robot, we’ll teach you. If not, we need people to help with the other stuff: calling sponsors, marketing, graphics, and also driving, making meals and snacks.” The more work you can spread around, the easier it is to avoid burnout. Even if you decide to work just as hard, you can accomplish more, and know that if you slow down for a while, things won’t fall completely apart.

Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences. It’s great to know that other mentors/team are working on the same challenges.

The specific ideas about team organization and recruitment/outreach strategies are particularly helpful for us. I’ll be looking into the training modules as well.


I am probably not the first to point out that parental involvement is a major contributor to the success and sustainability of a team.

Another major contributing factor to the success of the team are adult leaders who believe in the team in spite of their “disadvantages”. A good example is Glenn Lee of Hawaiian Kids.

For the 2017 season, I was asked to work with a team in a disadvantaged neighborhood that did not have any mentors. The kids were great to work with. They worked hard within their limited resources and were able to go further than they ever had and became the first pick for the first time in their history.

Contrary to what the teachers thought was possible, I was able to convince several students to bring their parents to events and the experience was as Alexander found. They were amazed at what their children had accomplished but didn’t do much more.

The most frustrating part of the experience was that the two teachers in charge of the team had mentally written off the kids on the team (and their families) saying their families will never become involved and help out. The teachers had low expectations for the team throughout the 2017 season and kept getting in the way of efforts to help the team prepare for the 2018 kickoff (i.e. learn programming) so I decided to walk away and volunteer at events instead.

I feel partially vindicated in believing in the students because at the one local event they attended in 2018, there was one or two (grand)parents in their pit area through the whole event.

This isn’t something teams always want to hear…but there are more accessible programs like VEX EDR available…I’ve seen many teams and stories like yours where that’s usually my go-to suggestion.

I’m considering suggesting the same to my school as well.

I am new at this and looking at this thread for suggestions but willing to chime in a bit from what The Bolts have experienced over last two years.

We struggle with recruitment. Had 6 students on the team the first year, grew to 10 the second year, and are down to 1 going into the next season. One thing we did try this year, to limited success I will mention but worth trying again, is actually having the younger siblings coming in to the shop and work with the team. Usually they are helping to assemble items (not using any power tools) and/or playing with LEGOs somewhere in sight. It is an added thing to the mentor group but the students are also paying attention. As a note this was only with 1 student and they are a 6th grader so YMMV.

Also, it is worth reaching out to the local community colleges to see about apprentice programs for the students post graduation. We have 4 students going this route. Part of this is because Community Colleges are now free in Maryland but worth it anyway.

We have had little success in this realm outside of parents coming to tournaments (when we qualified for Districts this year mainly). One way that was suggested to me is having a snack committee where you hook one or two parents to do the reaching out to the rest. Subscribing to this thread to hear other ideas on this area in particular.

I am bad at this. I am likely at a similar time dedication and seeming to tread water. Double so since I am not a teacher or working in the school district. So when work flairs up sometimes Robots hits the back burner which is a HUGE disservice to the kids… but thinking like that gets you into a negative cycle.

One thing that I am really looking to do a better job of this year is finding a few other folks that are willing to be dedicated to the cause and empowering them to take over those areas. The mentor group I have with the Bolts is a blessing and it is a hard lesson to learn that a) you are not superman and b) there are a lot of others that are willing to help out your group (including mentors on wealthier teams in your area more than likely).

Give other people the tasks of searching for t-shirts, have friends that are not “mentors” look up better hotel prices and travel options, etc etc.

Again I haven’t done a great job at this but learned a TON of hard lessons this year in particular, but as one of my mentors mentioned to me providing the program alone is a victory. All the other stuff is just icing.

Last thing, there really needs to be a NEMO type organization for folks in Title 1 schools and areas… wondering if there is someway to make that happen…

I’ve been a teacher/coach/old guy/mentor for Team 3355 for seven years. Our team is completely Title 1, we are a public charter school in Texas meaning any school funding for any program is only 70% of funding to an independent school district. We are definitely ranked “low resource” in the informal FRC ranking vernacular. We are located in an underserved area serving underserved students. Let’s talk about Sponsorships and how we go out and get them. Our team is not funded at all by the school and/or charter management organization. Interestingly enough, that is a good thing.

Sponsors are looking for ways to show they give back to their communities. We have done demo days at the local minor league baseball team stadium as fans walk in and out. We pass out business cards and ask for business cards to any interested person. Sure it’s fishing, but one can’t catch if one isn’t making the effort. We have approached our local Chamber of Commerce for a list of technical, straight up robotics, electronics and manufacturing businesses. We have also polled our internal parent base for parents that either work or have fabrication businesses. Each of our leads is researched, we make an appointment when appropriate and/or send our team informational brochures and additional business cards encouraging networking. Sponsors are the key to our team. Without sponsors, we would not exist. It is incumbent upon each team member to be part of our “sales team”. We do not do car washes, spaghetti suppers, candy sales, etc. We want to keep our parents as support instead of asking them constantly for funds. Using a professional sales/marketing plan enables us to work smarter not harder. Our rule of 20/80 means that 20% of the sponsors will give 80% of our team funding. We just have to make the sales calls, do displays, demo to corporate engineers and to executives that make the decisions where community monies go.

How do we recruit and retain students? We display and demo at our network science fair, take our show on the road to our middle and elementary schools. This not only brings us “right now” students but builds a stronger foundation for our future. I will retire very soon and want to leave our team better than I founded it. We have built robots to work through the cafeteria for student trash pick up, make sure we’re part of ANY open house or potential parent nights and burn the extra fuel to coordinate with our math/science departments to get potential members. I don’t have 100+ members but maintain a core group of about 20. Not bad in a 1100 student High School.

How do we recruit and retain parents? That’s tough as most of our parents work multiple jobs. The biggest issue we have is the "take them, drop them off, pick them up after robotics is over. Haven’t figured out this one yet. I want to start a booster club but get little enthusiasm from our leadership team. We send multiple students to engineering schools on scholarship but our leadership hasn’t made the connection between robotics and engineering schools…go figure.

Burnout? Im the only person for our team and have been so for seven years. I teach two separate preparations to 140 kids daily. I’m burning out but the team members keep pullin’ me back in.

Probably rambled too much. If so, drop me a PM. I’d be glad to be more specific.

Steve M.
Team 3355
Purple Vipers

Team 359 has been a Title I school for all but 2 seasons (just missed it) in our 19 year history. Add the fact that we are on an island in the middle of the Pacific and it is extremely difficult to do this program called FRC.
Many good feedback on this thread already.

My school is not Title I, but should be. What has helped me through the build season is the Free and Reduced Lunch program and it’s Dinner program. The kids get a bagged lunch for dinner before the evening build at 6pm, which I supplement with salad and fruit. I keep PB & J and bread on hand for an after school snack, oh and some soy butter too. To afford the PB & J I have cold bottled water for the team that I will give students and staff for a $1.00 donation.

Finishing our 5th year in FRC I have yet to get Parental support or participation, I am currently trying to get them to our end of year banquet. I have a few that are willing to help with carpooling.