Kennedy to offer stress-relieving robots to students


Courtesy of Tobey Sanford

Students at Kennedy Junior High pet a Qoobo, one of the stress-relieving robots awarded in the NEF grant.

Jeremy Zhao, Print Managing Editor & Head News Editor

Kennedy Junior High School will allow students to check out social-emotional learning (SEL) robots in the Learning Commons throughout the school day to manage stress. The robots, which arrived mid-November, were awarded in an express grant from the Naperville Education Foundation. 

Tobey Sanford, Kennedy Learning Commons director, applied for the grant. 

“I found it kind of similar to applying for colleges,” Sanford said. “NEF has annual Express grants for up to $1,000 for different ideas. They wanted to know how it connects to student learning.”

Sanford was awarded $799 for his idea, which he used to purchase four Qoobos robots and one EMO robot. 

Kennedy students can choose to come down to the Learning Commons instead of going outside for recess, Sanford said. They can also get passes to come down during supervised study. 

“One of my top priorities [for the Learning Commons] is for it to be a safe place for kids to come, where they can somewhat relax and get away from some of the stress of classes and the whole junior high social scene,” Sanford said. “These robots are intended to help comfort people.” 

The idea of robots first originated in a summer-school coding class Sanford co-taught with Dan Kischuk, Career and Technical Education teacher at Naperville Central. 

“We were teaching just some light programming to middle schoolers in the district, and one of the tools that we like to use are different educational robots,” Kischuk said. “We found that they were really, really intrigued by a lot of the SEL robots.” 

The two teachers started talking about putting together a grant to buy a bunch of these robots. Kischuk said he wondered whether the robots would “make a difference for students’ moods” and be a “break” for students throughout the day. 

Sanford said he was interested in applying for grants in the future. 

“If these robots are [well] received, I might try to find ways to get some more,” Sanford said. “I also have an idea for a grant for comic books.”

Kischuk was also recently approved for a grant that would provide Naperville Central students with Raspberry Pi and Arduino projects.