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BREADCRUMB

NDP'S POWER COUPLE OF ROBOTICS

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September 20, 2023

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame Prep, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

It's not unusual to see upper school science teacher Louise Palardy and husband, Jerry, in Notre Dame Prep's robotics center at any hour of any day of the week. What's even more impressive is why they do it. 

Jerry and Louise Palardy are in their home away from home,  Notre Dame Prep's robotics center, which is located in the Timothy J. Easterwood Science, Art, and Technology Wing.


On a recent beautiful almost fall-like Saturday morning at Notre Dame Prep, the campus was abuzz with activity. Middle school football was on Kozyra Field and CYO volleyball was well underway in the Grimaldi.

But tucked away inside the school's beautiful and innovative Timothy J. Easterwood Science, Art, and Technology Wing, a huge group of student roboteers was getting their collective feet wet with some hands-on introductions to VEX robotics in the robotics center.

Overseeing this cacophony of young children on this Saturday was the usual smattering of parents and guardians. But almost literally floating about and offering expert advice and encouragement was Notre Dame Prep's ubiquitous power couple of robotics, Jerry and Louise Palardy. 

Which is not a surprise.

Louise has been fixture on campus for well over 18 years, beginning with when her oldest son Andrew NDP'12 first came to NDP and she volunteered her free time away from a chemical engineering career to help design and make costumes for school stage productions. (Daughter Ashley graduated NDP in 2014 and Aaron graduated in May.)

"I made costumes for about 10 years for many, many school plays for the lower, middle and upper school plays, but then I caught the robotics bug," Louise said. "And the rest, as they say, is history."

Perfect timing

After receiving an undergraduate degree in engineering chemistry from Oakland University, Louise worked for years as a chemical engineer and in in project management for an adhesives company. But when she started volunteering in robotics at Notre Dame Prep with husband, Jerry, to create the VEX IQ robotics program at Notre Dame Prep, Louise also caught the teaching bug. 

"I decided to enroll in a master’s in education program at the University of Cincinnati that would help me become a teacher and to be a better mentor for the students," she said. 

Louise Palardy regularly hosts information sessions with lower school students in the robotics center.


She enjoyed the program, learned a great deal about teaching and graduated just as the Notre Dame's Easterwood wing was opening with its new robotics facility.

"Andy Guest was looking to hire someone to run the robotics center and it was perfect timing for me," she said. "Now I also teach honors chemistry, engineering and empathy, and algebra. I truly enjoy teaching. I also think the IB program is fantastic and I'm glad to be teaching classes in the Middle Years Program, which allow me to bring real-world experiences and a global perspective into my classes."


UPDATE ON NEW SEASON
In their 11th season of coaching VEX IQ robotics, the Palardys are working with a new group of third graders who are trying out robotics for the first time as well as a large group of sixth graders, many of whom are new to NDP's middle school. The momentum of NDP's success at the VRC world championships last May was enough to get the season started early. In early August, the school fielded seven teams with working robots at the Monroe County Fair, which was the first official competition anywhere for this year's new game called "Over-Under." Team 3333X won the event and is already qualified for the next Michigan State Championship.


For Jerry Palardy, a computer science graduate from Wayne State University, his introduction to school robotics also came early while working as a software solutions consultant for many years. His last job before retiring in 2018 was as a solution architect for a disability claims system at a large insurance company. He's also the owner of a housing business, which is part-time work, leaving plenty of time for robotics. His hours and hours of work in robotics at NDP has always been as a volunteer.

He loves working with the younger students in robotics, especially when he sees that lightbulb come on and they fully embrace the activity.

Jerry Palardy works with a new member of Notre Dame Prep's robotics team.


"The competition aspect is what really motivates the kids," he said. "Robotics competitions are like sporting events. Everyone knows that understanding technology will be important for the next generation, but the real challenge is getting them interested in how it works."

He added that traditional classroom settings, and even internships for older students, just don’t get the kids motivated the way a competition can, especially when they're so young. 

"But participating in robotics is more than just the technical aspect," he said. "It trains kids in real life skills, like working as a team, setting goals, managing a project, following up, handling the stress of a competition, decision-making, and independent thinking."

Rewards of volunteering

Over the years, Jerry and Louise have rotated roles and responsibilities, but they have always both been fully involved. 

"Lately, Jerry has been in charge of organizing the VRC (VEX Robotics Competition) program for seventh to 12th graders, while I am focusing on the VEX IQ program (third through sixth)," said Louise. "But each of us tries to attend all the meetings for both programs. And our son Andrew has been helping out a lot lately, too, with both programs." 

Jeffrey Guo, left, and Jose Turrubiartes have a combined 17 years of robotics experience at NDP.


Jerry recalls the time before he got involved with robotics. He said he would go to school events and hardly know anyone. 

"Through coaching robotics, I have met so many amazing kids and their families," he said. "A lot of them try robotics and then move on to other things, and that’s fine. But we still have relationships with families that we've met through robotics 10 years ago. As an example, two of our current seniors have been on the same team together since elementary school: Jose Turrubiartes (eighth year) and Jeffrey Guo (ninth year)."

Both Jerry and Louise agree that whether it's helping with a sport, a club, the band, school plays or robotics, volunteering can be truly rewarding. 

"Plus, as a teacher or coach, they always say you can change someone's life," Jerry said. "But it's also very true in reverse!"

School mission and teamwork

Over the more than 18 years on and off the Notre Dame Prep campus, there is no doubt the Palardys have changed and influenced the many young lives they've coached and mentored. But the one common denominator that helps explain why they spend so many their extra hours — many of them voluntary hours — on the robotics programs is that they believe fully in the school's mission.

"We believe the school mission of working with God to form Christian persons, upright citizens and academic scholars carries through from the classroom to extracurricular activities like robotics," said Louise, who also co-mentors the school's podcast club. "I also think that whether it's sports, clubs or robotics, we function as simply an extension of the school day rather than simply an after-school program."

She said she and her husband always try to model how to be respectful and polite and how to work as a team. 

"We constantly stress teamwork and learning to cooperate and compromise with others. At the end of the day we want the students to have a great experience, grow in their faith, and become innovative leaders of tomorrow."

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame Prep, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School 
Notre Dame Preparatory School is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame Prep's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.