Robotics students address homelessness

Westside Elementary’s Robotics students pause for a photo with their concept for a homeless shelter. Pictured, from left, in the front row are Ellie Barrera, Rayna Schiffhauer and Jayden Barrera; in the back row are Coach Jennifer Macklin, Emmie Atkins and Kyler Kindall.

At the Payette City Council meeting on Nov. 4, Westside Elementary School’s First Lego League Robotics Team presented a concept for a homeless shelter within the city. The project was put together under the name ‘Pirates Cove,’ and seeks to find support for a real-life shelter based on the concept.

According to Robotics Coach and Title I Assistant Jennifer Macklin, the project stems from the League’s City Shaper competition, in which the team had to identify a problem in their community and then come up with a solution. The team chose to tackle homelessness in Payette.

“The Payette School District during the 2017-18 school year had 187 students that did not have adequate housing,” according to Macklin. “Approximately 90% were doubled up with family members or friends, but 10% had no shelter. Currently the only shelter in Payette County or surrounding counties is a domestic violence shelter, and some may not meet the criteria [to get in].”

The Robotics Team is made up of fourth-graders Ellie Barrera and Hailey Jordan, and fifth-graders Emmie Atkins, Jayden Barrera, Alekx Henderson, Kyler Kindall, Rayna Schiffhauer and Mya Smith.

Macklin said her daughter was the one who got this started.

“After talking with Rayna Schiffhauer, my daughter who is on the team, the idea came to me. She then talked with Emmie Atkins and together they talked with Mya Smith and the idea took on a life of its own. Pretty soon the whole team was on board.”

To illustrate their concept, Emmie, Alex, Hailey and Kyler built a model of the proposed project out of Lego bricks.

The shelter would act more like a resident home, providing an address and resources to enable homeless job seekers to get hired.

At the moment, the concept is merely hopes and dreams. But Macklin hopes it leads to serious conversation about making this dream come true.

“Although this is a hypothetical project right now, I believe with the right steering committee and financial backing this could be something great.”

Corey Evan is a reporter at the Independent-Enterprise and Argus Observer. He can be reached at (208) 642-5258 or by emailing To comment on this story, go to

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