The Engineering Enclave provides autistic students first-hand experience in robotics


Nico Stranquist

Junior Darrion Ward works on fixing an old projector to use the spare parts in the robotics class

Entering its second year, The Engineering Enclave gives autistic students jobs to help run the robotics class, while providing first-hand experience and skills needed in the workforce.

Clifford Amen, a Robotics and Engineering teacher, secured funding for the program in 2013.

“This program teaches communication, organization and work ethics in a systematic method to allow the student to become employable,” Amen said. “Students assemble, disassemble and organize small robotics parts, which saves a lot of time.  Some students can even progress to the manufacturing of robot parts for classroom kits that are used in class.”

Junior Darrion Ward is enrolled for a second year and is currently the only Special School District student in the Engineering Enclave program.

“Even though he’s autistic, he still has the mind of an engineer,” Guardian Beverly Rodgers said.

A primary focus of the Engineering Enclave program is to prepare autistic students for future employment.

“The Enclave has motivated him [Darrion] to become a better student – it keeps him on task, it keeps him focused and it’s a great thing because he can start a task, and see a finished product,” Special School District Teacher Jennifer McKissic said 

Amen got the project approved and funded for the 2014-2015 school year as well.

“It serves as a very inclusive and diverse way for many students of all ages and abilities to experience the benefit from S.T.E.M. education,” Amen said.

The Enclave is also helping engineering activities at the elementary school level.

“The Enclave assembles boxes for fourth and fifth grade students to do engineering activities with,” Amen said. “The boxes can then be reassembled by the enclave, and sent back to be used again.”

Next semester, three additional Special School District students are expected to join the Enclave

“Our students love the class, and I think that it is the best thing that has happened at West,” McKissic said.