POINT PLEASANT — While most students and teachers head home for the day, a group of Roosevelt Elementary students have been staying behind to perfect their robot skills in preparation for competitions.
All of that hard work has led to both Roosevelt teams advancing to the state competition and one advancing to the Vex Robotics World Championship in April.
Going to a state competition is exciting for any team, but even more so for the Roosevelt RoboCats who had two qualifying teams heading to states during the first year of the team’s existence.
“I was very shocked and excited”, said Gabriella King, a sixth grader on the team, about making it to states.
The Robocats started in the 2019-20 school year during Sarah Starcher’s first year at Roosevelt Elementary. The team is the first of its kind in Mason County.
“I’m really excited because it’s the first team in Mason County and it’s all of our first time,” said Abigail Oliver, a fourth grader on the team.
The two teams, A and B, consist of 14 students.
Being the first year for the students and Starcher, none of them had expected to make it as far as they have.
“As a first year team with me not having any kind of background knowledge in this, I did not ever expect them to make it to states,” Starcher said. “This was my first year at the school, so I didn’t know any of these kids. I didn’t know their strengths or weaknesses. We’ve really just kind of done this together. It’s been a true learning experience.”
Starcher said the students started moving themselves around where they fit best for the best teams.
“They’ve switched drive teams several times,” Starcher said. “They just found that, little things, that they just work better with other people. Their strengths compliment somebody else’s weaknesses, so they can drive better with other people than they originally thought.”
With little suggestion, Starcher tries to let the kids work out where they fit best.
“I let them pick to begin with and then I was like, ‘why don’t you try, just try to drive together and see how it goes,’” Starcher said. “When they noticed, ‘oh wait that worked a lot better’ or ‘I’m really good at this and she’s really good at that” then they’re like, ‘yeah, we’re staying together. We want to do this.’”
Many of the students say that the program was just something they thought they would try, but for some it has made them think twice about career goals.
“I wanted to try something else that was big,” said Hadleigh Cossin a fourth grader. “I was actually thinking about being a hair stylist, but now I want to design robots and sell them.”
Starcher says that while it is unclear if the program has helped students improve their grades or skills in class, it has given them motivation to work harder since they have to complete assignments to participate.
She is confident that the program has helped not only the students, but herself develop a number of skills.
“I really just saw this and was like, ‘I want to do that’ and I had no idea how hard it was going to be,” Starcher said. “I’m so much more English and reading mindset that the math and problem solving behind that has been mindboggling.
They’re doing engineering because they have to build every aspect. They have to build it in a way that the motors will fit on, the controls will work with it. They learn the programing through the blocks,” Starcher said.
The process leading to competitions is never-ending Starcher said. Before the state competition the team had a number of adjustments and problems to solve.
“We ordered a different type of wheels, we ordered omnidirectional wheels. So they can go sideways, front-ways, they kinda drift with it. They replaced their old ones,” Starcher said. “They’re trying to master the changes made to their wheels, it’s called a drivetrain. Changing the wheels changes the way the robot drives. It’s actually driving a lot faster now with the new wheels.”
The teams have competed in five competitions, including states, taking home judge’s award, design award, and 2nd and 3rd places in teamwork challenges.
During the state competition the teams competed against 48 other teams. Team B won 2nd place in the teamwork challenge, the judge’s award and had the highest qualifying match of the day.
This advances them to the world championship being held in Louisville, Ky. Robocats are one of eight teams from West Virginia being sent to Worlds.
Starcher says the evidence of how hard they kids have worked is there and they hope the funds can be raised to make this trip happen.
“Their very first match they scored one point. Now they’re consistently scoring 100 points or more and have scored the highest match of the day multiple times,” Stachar said. “They were determined to get to Worlds and they put in the time and dedication to get there.”
The world championship will be multiple days of competing for the students. The registration fee is $975 per team and that is just to compete.
The team is always accepting donations and are working on a plan to host several fundraisers to help cover costs. They have estimated with registration and expenses they will need to raise $6,000.
Starcher said she hopes they can make the trip happen for the students. The only way the team will be able to attend is by raising the money because the expense is too high for families.
“The students have worked so hard for this moment and I want them to be able to showcase their accomplishments at the world competition,” Starcher said. “Raising the money to go would be like a real life Cinderella story.”
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Brittany Hively is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing and graduate of Marshall University, with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and journalism. She is currently working toward her MBA, also at Marshall. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.