Southern Robotics Team makes districts

SALINEVILLE – Students at Southern Local are doing their part to ensure the U.S. does not keep falling behind the rest of the world in math and science. Not only are they bucking the global trend but they are also having fun by pairing their passion for math and science with an unlikely ally- Legos.

The nine member Southern Local sixth grade Robotics Team traveled to Warren G. Harding High school on Dec. 8 to compete against 16 other teams in the Northeast Ohio First Robotics Alliance – First Lego League Regional Tournament. The tournament features teams of students working together to build a robot based on a challenge. The First Lego League (FLL) issues the challenge to teams around the world in September and teams are given the same amount of time to prepare their robotics creation for demonstration in December.

This year’s challenge was “Senior Solutions.” Teams were asked to work with a senior citizen to identify an aspect of daily life which seniors might find challenging and then create an ‘innovative solution’ to help resolve the issue. All teams are given the same basic platform from which to create their robot then are judged based on design, programming, team work and core values. After a successful performance at this year’s regional tournament the sixth grade Southern Local Robotics Team has been invited to advance to the district tournament at Akron University on Jan. 12 and 13. There they will compete against 30 other teams for a chance to advance to the state tournament.

This year’s team is coached by Heidi Duncan, Leslie Dean and Eric Dean, and mentored by former elementary team member Joseph Dean. In just its fourth year, the robotics team at Southern has come a long way. “It started as four sixth grade students meeting in the basement of my house and has developed into two FLL teams, one that’s a sixth grade team and one that’s a combined seventh and eighth grade team,” explained program coordinator Leslie Dean. There is also a high school Robotics Team which participated in the college level First Tech Challenge last year. The high school team is coached by Leslie Dean’s husband Eric Dean. Since those humble beginnings the program has been allowed to use Southern’s excel room after school to hold meetings, signed up many more team members, and gained wide support from the community. “Its definitely been well supported by the school board, PTO, and (high school and elementary) principals who have helped us get t-shirts and bussing and things like that,” said Dean.

The increased interest amongst students at all grade levels, while a proud accomplishment for Dean and the other coaches, has proven to be a logistical juggling act at times. “It takes a lot of time and effort and because we’re growing and have mutiple teams I can’t be in three places at once,” said Dean. For that reason, Dean is always looking for parents, teachers and community members who are willing to pitch in to help.

As for the future of the robotics team, Dean thinks the enthusiasm for the robotics team will continue: “The students coming up from fourth and fifth grade were hearing about it and getting really excited, we couldn’t just do it for one year. Not everyone is into sports or they (students) just have another side to themselves and want to compete in something that uses their mind as well.”