The White Sands School robotics team, which has been competing for the past three years, was one of two teams in the Las Cruces Public Schools to advance to a regional BEST Robotics competition.
“It is unique to see a team that has just started, do so well so soon. I was really excited to see White Sands place; they’ve come a long way and I know they’ve worked really hard this year,” said New Mexico Best Robotics competition program manager Tracy O’Neil.
The White Sands School team won 7th place at the Oct. 11 and 18 BEST Robotics competition held at New Mexico State University. BEST stands for Boosting Engineering Science and Technology. The main goal of the competition is to create a robot with materials the BEST program provides. The placing allowed them to advance to the regional competition on Nov. 14 and 15 in Garland, Texas. There will be 8 students attending the competition.
“This is the first year we qualify so we’re super excited,” said White Sands Middle School science teacher Brian Claar.
“You’re pretty much making a robot off of whatever knick-knack they give you,” said White Sands School physical education coach Jim Maes.
Maes and Claar have been competing in a variety of STEM related competitions with students ranging from 5th to 8th grade for the past three years. Last year the students were awarded the sportsmanship award in BEST robotics.
Prior to being a coach, Maes said he was in charge of most of the science programs. Maes said Claar’s arrival, 3 years ago, allowed them to delve into a range of competitions within the STEM field. Since then, the two teachers have led the way for students to compete in events like BEST Robotics, VEX Robotics, Lego Robotics, Science Olympiad, Project GUTS, and Super Computer Challenge. The White Sands School team was also State champions in the VEX Robotics competition last year.
Participation in the program supports the school’s STEM Project Lead the Way. The purpose of the program is to spark student’s interest in subjects within the STEM field. In total, about 35 students are involved in at least one program.
“Percentage wise were doing better than volleyball and baseball (participation),” Maes said.
Dr. Kent Richards a parent of one of the members of the White Sands team was awarded the Dr. Sheila Horan award during the BEST competition. The award recognizes one individual who mentors the team and is most influential. Richards opens his home to the students and teachers to be able to work on the robot. The CYS and MST staff also provide assistance along with two engineers who work within the installation; Bill Beatty and Jim Northrup, who is also a parent.
“There are times we’re here until 7 p.m. and meeting on the weekends. The whole logistics of it becomes a partnership,” Maes said.
“We have a lot of fun doing what we do,” Claar added.
Maes and Claar said MST and CYS have been very helpful in providing their facility, transportation, and some funding. On Nov. 8, the robotics team will hold a VEX Robotics practice at the MST building that will be open to the public.
“It benefits both the school and the child youth program,” Maes said. “Now with us collaborating together, not only are we able to do what we need to do but they have the kids in one centralized safe place. A lot of schools in town don’t have that type of resource.”
During the competition, the students are judged on how the robot functions, but aside from function, students are also judged on how they market their robot. Students are provided an area to display their robot. The students also need to develop a plan on how they would attempt to sell their robot.
“It’s (not only) team building and engineering. There are so many other things the program asks the kids to get involved with. It gives them some skills that they can use in real life,” Claar said.
For the teachers, mentors, and children, preparation for the competition begins at the beginning of the school year. If the students advance to the national competition they could be invested into the program until early June.
“We’re going above and beyond for our students. We’re doing the right thing in letting them know there’s a future in STEM,” Maes said.
The team is currently redesigning their robot for the upcoming regional competition.