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Robot dance parties and other lessons from elementary school in Rock Hill

abii student.jpg
Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio
Aaris, a first-grader at Sunset Park Elementary School in Rock Hill, is immersed in a lesson with her robot friend ABii. Aaris and her classmates get 15 minutes at a time with ABii, and they all tend to value that time.

There might be a shortage of teachers, but certainly there is no shortage of students. And while at the moment, it doesn’t appear that those who are employed as teachers will be losing their jobs to robots, robots have entered the conversation.

ABii (rhymes with bobby) is small, friendly, and, depending on which of Ms. Brandy Heyward’s first graders you ask, is a girl or a boy. But the kids in this class at Sunset Park Elementary School in Rock Hill (the district’s Center for Advanced Studies) are in complete agreement that ABii helps them with math and other classroom work.

And, in particular, with social-emotional learning, or SEL – the development of certain social skills designed to help children process their fears, stresses, anxieties, and frustrations in healthy ways.

Dr. Nancy Tuner, the district’s director of mental health, says each K-5 classroom has two ABii robots, designed to help students who sit down and run through a lesson, whether it’s math, vocabulary, or SEL.

ABii throws a killer dance party, too. When we walked into Ms. Hannah Craven’s second-grade classroom at Sunset Park Elementary, the kids were carving some serious moves along with ABii, which happens whenever she (he? they? it?) finishes a class lesson.

But since children are better heard than read about, it’s probably a good idea to hear from them yourself. You can click the audio story at the top of this page.

Especially if you want to join the dance party.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.