Alabama Pre-K Program Named Best in Nation, UA to Defend Space Mining Championship

May 16, 2016

University of Alabama MARTE mining robot
Credit Alabama Astrobiotics

Alabama’s state preschool program has been named the best in the country for ten years running.

The National Institute for Early Education Research ranks pre-kindergarten programs across the country each year based on quality. For the tenth year in a row, the institute named Alabama’s state-funded First Class Pre-K program the nation’s best. Alabama met or exceeded all of the institute’s quality benchmarks examining things like student-to-teacher ratios and educator qualifications.

Allison Muhlendorf is the Executive Director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. She says the next step is expanding access so more students can take advantage.

“Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is projected to grow from 20% to 25% of four-year-olds statewide, and that means that one out of every four four-year-olds in Alabama will have access to this nationally acclaimed Pre-K program.”

Last month, the Alabama Legislature approved a $16 million expansion of the state pre-K program. That extra funding is expected to open more than 150 additional classrooms and enroll nearly 3,000 more students.

A team of University of Alabama engineering students is working on a project that’s out of this world. APR’s Pat Duggins reports, it’s part of a NASA competition that could help future astronauts on deep space missions.

Meet MARTE 3.0. That’s short for Modular Autonomous Robotic Terrestrial Explorer. The seven thousand dollar robot will compete against about forty other college entries in a contest at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The robot that can dig up the most simulated moon dirt wins. The University of Alabama team is the reigning national champion.

Assistant professor Kenny Ricks says his students used that champion robot to design MARTE 3.0.

“Hey, we have this new idea A, and this new idea B, and this new idea C. How does this compare with this baseline that we just competed with that we were really happy with?”

Ricks says designing and building robots for NASA gives students real life engineering experience, as well as how to work in groups.

You can check out a video of MARTE in action here.

The speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives is set to stand trial on felony ethics charges that could result in his removal from office.

Jury selection begins today for the ethics trial of State Representative Mike Hubbard of Auburn. He's facing 23 counts of using his office and past position as chairman of the Alabama GOP for personal gain.

Hubbard says he didn't do anything illegal. A jury pulled from as many as 140 prospective jurors will decide his fate in a trial that officials say could last around three weeks.

Hubbard's trial comes as two other top Alabama officials are also at risk of losing their jobs. Governor Robert Bentley faces possible impeachment proceedings amid a sex-tinged scandal. Chief Justice Roy Moore is suspended and facing removal from office after being accused of violating judicial ethics.