Montgomery Foundation

Robotics class receives financial backing from out-of-state group
Posted on 09/21/2021
Kathy Miller’s robotics class break off into groups and unbox robotics kits.

A Georgia-based philanthropy group has donated more than $5,000 to a popular elective class at Poplar Bluff High School to purchase several robotics kits so more students can practice engineering.

Having previously contributed tens of thousands of dollars to over a dozen PBHS students through a scholarship endowment, the Montgomery Family Foundation shifted its focus to sponsoring a science teacher who reintroduced robotics to the school system.

“Kathy Miller – her outlook, her ambitions for these kids, is contagious; it really is. There is a legacy very apparent,” explained Robert Bennett of Butler County, a local liaison to the board of directors. “Kathy Miller’s thoroughness, her due diligence in this thing over time—she had real perspective on what was necessary and truly needed—and that proved to be a turning point in our conversations.”

Technical Career Center Director Charles Kinsey was first made aware of the foundation’s renewed interest, and connected the stakeholders with the most logical programs at R-I that fell within the nonprofit’s focus area, he recalled. “This partnership has the potential to become a long-term investment, or this could be the sum total. Either way, we are extremely grateful,” Kinsey said.

Bennett visited the school district in February, and observed the students preparing for a robotics competition. Miller had a conference call with the board officers over the summer and detailed the scope of her program, which began with a Robotics Club in 2013, and eventually led to a series of semester-long classes.

At the beginning of the month, seven TETRIX FIRST Tech Challenge Competition Sets, valued at about $700 apiece, were delivered to the science department. Over the past few years, Miller was only able to come up with yearly funds to purchase a single kit of lesser quality components, otherwise she would have to borrow from the after-school club, co-sponsored by social studies teacher Michael Sowatzke.

“This means us being able to have enough materials to divide the kids up, with each person actually getting a chance to work on a robot, and not just looking on,” Miller said. "Just because we're a small school in Southeast Missouri, doesn't mean we can't have an upper-level class that leaves here being able to show how to look at problems, and how to go through each of the different engineering steps to solve them.”

Established by the late Lawrence John Montgomery Jr. in 1989, the Montgomery Foundation supports programs at multiple universities across the United States, and has provided other educational opportunities for financially challenged students. Bennett became acquainted with the family through a mutual friend at East Carter, where their footprint in the region initially took shape, and he has since had an influence on their impact here.

“My interest in the school has been stimulated by the Montgomerys and their interest in young people, with robotics being a real focal point. They’re engineers, and I know a lot of our local kids,” Bennett stated. A fine furniture maker, Bennett shares a passion for the trades with the heirs of the patriarch: son Lawrence John Montgomery III and his wife Mary of Georgia, and their daughters Elizabeth and Christine.

“What we’re finding more and more with our young people, is they’re not attaining the basics; they’re really lacking the basic knowledge of trades,” Bennett continued. “You can provide all the extremely high technical stuff, but if you can’t ride a bicycle, you can’t ride a motorcycle. We can put all the CNC machines in front of the kids and teach them to push a button, but someone needs to know how to keep the plant running.”


Cutline: Students in Kathy Miller’s robotics class at PBHS break off into groups on Wednesday, Sept. 8, and unbox robotics kits from Pitsco Education containing structural, motion and hardware elements, along with motors, cables and batteries.

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