Students at Highlander Charter School in Providence enjoyed a little limelight this morning while playing "The Real Robots of Robot High" the culmination of a four-year, $1 million grant The Sojourner House won for a video game teaching healthy relationships that's fun.
With the speeches done and cameras trained on them, students proved the fun part was a success, allowing few interruptions to their focus on the game.
Eric Sip, 10, and Jhalil Brown, 13, only had eyes for the laptop they were taking turns playing the game on. "Yep," said Brown when asked if he was enjoying it.
Jeanne D'Agostino, development director at the school, said students have stayed after school until 5:30 p.m. some afternoons to play the game. "That was the whole purpose behind this program," said Vanessa Volz, executive director of Sojourner House, "We knew there were better ways to reach kids."
The graphics aren't state of the art, but that doesn't seem to matter much to the rapt students clicking through the educational game, sending their characters through hallways and interacting with other characters through dialog boxes that pop up as they travel through.
The story takes place in the hallways of Robot High, the setting for Robot Land's most controversial and popular reality show, "The Real Robots of Robot High". The school is overwhelmed by drama that's made worse by an explosive relationship between two of the show's main cast members. To stop the abuse and save the school, players must earn and strategically apply relationship tools — communication, status and positive influence — to solve problems and build a culture of respect.
According to the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, during the 12 months before the survey, nearly one out of 10 high school students nationwide had been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend. "The Real Robots of Robot High" was designed to teach students about healthy relationships early on and prevent teen dating violence and abuse.
Christina Garcia, a staff member at the Sojourner House, said they've been working on the game since winning the grant from theRobert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2008. The funding allowed them to begin Start Strong Rhode Island, which started work on the video game.
Garcia said they noticed that 11-year-olds, who they're trying to teach about healthy relationships, liked cartoons like Sponge Bob Square Pants and shows like Jersey Shore. So they designed their game to borrow liberally from reality TV and kids cartoons.
Students from Highlander helped design the game, including characters and situations, through focus groups, Garcia said. "I helped create my favorite character, Napcom, said Rudy Reyes, "He has glasses just like me and sometimes deals with drama and rumors in school." He said it's fun to create and share a game based on his own experiences.
The game, designed for players aged 11-14, is available on-line for free, as are lesson plans on teaching healthy relationships. The game will be available in beta until Dec. 31 and released in early 2013. Educators who want to use the game for free can sign up at www.realrobothigh.com.
If you need to speak to a counselor about a domestic violence situation, you can call the Sojourner House at their Woonsocket location, 401-861-6191.