Pennsylvania school launches robotics program with donation from Ashley Furniture
Pictured in photo, from left, Makoto Kizuka (STEAM teacher), Dr. Joshua Kuehner (principal), Joe Murphy (Ashley Furniture Industries), Michael Billman (director of instructional and information technology), Howard Emerson (STEAM teacher).

LEESPORT, Pa. – Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. has partnered with Schuylkill Valley School District to enhance its middle school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program.

Ashley is the largest manufacturer of home furnishings in the world and largest company in the FDMC 300 list of industry leaders, with an upholstery manufacturing facility near the school in Leesport, in eastern Pennsylvania.

With a $20,000 contribution from the company, the school purchased VEX Robotics equipment allowing the eighth-grade class the hands-on opportunity to learn STEM concepts with innovative, age-appropriate equipment.     

VEX Robotics is a provider of educational and competitive robotics products to schools around the world. The equipment allows students to easily build their first robot and with endless possibilities of customization. The platform encourages students to build a robot that is bigger, stronger, and more functional as they continue to learn.

VEX also provides curriculum options for educators to integrate lesson plans into the classroom and easily customize projects to meet the level of students' abilities.

"We are fortunate to have industry support from Ashley Furniture to showcase to our students the value of learning these skills,” said Michael Billman, Schuylkill Valley School district director of instructional and information technology. “Beyond science and engineering principles, robotics teaches students creativity, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving skills, all highly valued skills by employers once students leave our hands.”

VEX Robotics equipment can also be used for extracurricular competition programs where students are tasked with designing and building a robot to play with other teams in a game-based engineering challenge.

Schuylkill Valley School District offers competition clubs at both the middle school and high school level. With this donation, the middle school competition program also purchased additional equipment to expand its capacity which will strengthen student interest for the high school program.  Although instruction is currently being carried out online, students are still able to utilize the VEX curriculum with the use of virtual simulations.

When in-person instruction resumes, students will have the opportunity to build their own robot with the snap-together robotics system and then watch their creation come to life as they apply the basic principles of programming. 

“This program is a great way for young students to learn career-readiness skills,” said Ron Wanek, founder and chairman, Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. “We continue to support STEM education to inspire the next generation of skilled workers and help secure our country’s position as a world-leader in technology and advanced manufacturing.” See


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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at [email protected].