As the robotics teams from Chesterton Middle School and Westchester Intermediate School work out any last minute kinks in their designs leading up to the VEX Robotics World Championships next month, they were happy to host a Community Night on Tuesday, April 19th, at CMS to show off their winning designs. Three teams from CMS along with two teams from WIS have qualified for this prestigious event that will be held in Dallas, Texas, May 10-12, and attended by teams from all four corners of the world.
After two consecutive virtual championships due to COVID-19, the students, coaches, and parents are all eager to return to action in person and interact with the international competition face to face. “This will be my second time going to Worlds and it was a lot of fun to go and see it all the first time,” said Ray Hundt, a CMS 8th grader, who attended in person in 2019. “Last time I got a panda hat from the Chinese team and I’m excited to see all the teams from other countries again. ”
Fellow CMS 8th grader, Keith Ward, is also excited to return to action at the event and socialize with the other teams, but he has an even bigger item on his agenda. “I’m looking forward to traveling to Texas,” Ward said. “But honestly I’m most excited because I think we have a decent chance of winning this year!” Ward is a member of CMS Team E, which is also composed of 8th graders Ethan Glassman and William Morgan. Team E is hoping to harness the momentum of winning top prize, the Excellence Award, at the Indiana State Robotics Competition and riding it to another victory.
The win at State wasn’t an easy victory, and robotics parent turned CMS coach Cliff Morgan hopes that not only Team E but all of the Duneland teams use the lesson learned when they get to Worlds as well as down the road in all aspects of their life.
“Down at the state competition there was a problem with their robot being able to fit certain dimensions so they had to change their robot on the spot and it broke,” Morgan recalled. “They had to take it back to the hotel room after hours and spend hours fixing it. They actually made it better and went back to win the top award in the state! ”
Morgan attributes the robotics programs at both WIS and CMS for teaching the students about perseverance, problem-solving, and teamwork under sometimes high levels of stress, which the students seem to be thriving under. First year WIS team member, 5th grader Herschel Hardwick, has thoroughly enjoyed his first season and has eagerly been soaking it all in. “It has taught me how things work better to start,” said Hardwick. “It has helped teach me mechanics and more about how levers and other things work. My favorite part about it all is that you get to build stuff and see how it works, but also you just get to be with your friends and work together on something you love with them. ”
A labor of love is at the heart of this relatively new yet rapidly growing program within the Duneland School Corporation, and those involved hope to continue to spread the love and encourage involvement. When WIS coach Brad Sweet neared retirement from NIPSCO after working for over 34 years as an electrical engineer, he found himself becoming more and more involved in teaching local youths about robotics in his spare time. Fast forward a few years and he found himself as a fully retired grandfather to a WIS student who signed onto the robotics team. After an encounter at a meeting with WIS coach Katie Toweson four years ago, Sweet dove head first into volunteering his time.
“Prior to coming here I had taught at the Valpo Y, we did LEGO based robotics, and the thing that disturbed me most was so many kids came in and said there were only 20 openings at our school and 100 kids applied,” recalled Sweet . “I enjoy teaching the kids about it and I tell them what I told my own grandson, you have to do something. Enjoy learning something outside of school. ”
Toweson, who teaches 5th grade science and math at WIS, helped found the team there five years ago and has enjoyed watching it grow and watching the students do exactly what Sweet hoped they would, enjoying learning something outside the traditional classroom walls. Noting that the students coming into WIS are more prepared than ever thanks to robotics clubs at all 5 elementary schools, Toweson is excited for the program to grow and continue to produce teams like the ones getting to experience Worlds this year.
“The accomplishment of just qualifying for this competition with their friends is great, but I do think it is an amazing opportunity as well for students to see how similar they are to students from other countries all over the world. They have a lot in common that they might not realize and they are going to get to interact with people that they might not otherwise be able to because of this competition. ”
As the programs at the elementary levels take root and the intermediate and middle school levels continue to excel, the hope of those involved is that interest will also grow and continue on throughout the high school level in the future. Current robotics parents are looking to establish an official Chesterton Robotics Booster Club for next season, but are currently actively fundraising to support the program and their travel. To support the teams heading to Worlds in May, visit Chestertonrobotics.com for information about their upcoming ‘Pancake & Bloody Mary Breakfast’, to be held on Saturday, April 30th, at the Duneland Distillery.