R-2 board authorizes spending $1,600 to start middle school robotics team

By: 
Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

Gasconade County R-2 School District’s Board of Education Monday night approved starting a First Lego League (FLL) robotics team for the Owensville Middle School on a 6-0 vote.

“We need to get the middle school on the bandwagon,” said Teresa Schulte,OMS principal, proposing teams be seventh and eighth grade only. “There is so much to build these things. There is teamwork, collaboration, prep, problem solving.”

Owensville Elementary School officials surveyed fourth- and fifth-graders for students interested in a robotics team. Principal Dr. Scott Davidson said they suggested a $50 participation fee.

Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner explained to the board that a middle school robotics team would be a feeder program into the high school robotics team, currently under the direction of Kevin Lay. Schulte recommended Rebecca Lorey, who has experience as a robotics coach from her previous school, to lead the middle school program. She is the new high school math teacher who replaced Ryan Okenfuss when he accepted the athletic director’s position.

“We do have a good plan, and we do have applications back from our kids,” Schulte said. “In my office, I have eight applications and we need six to eight kids per team. That makes a good amount of kids.”

Lorey said the First Robotics Series is a worldwide program. “It’s designed for kids from kindergarten to college,” Lorey said. “If we are interested in building the robotics program here at Owensville, we have a very strong robotics team at the high school. If we want to start building that, we have teams at the elementary level and need to start building at the middle school level.”

Lorey said the program makes the connection between math, science and application and lets kids be excited about creating something that works. It’s not just about programing.

“It’s about gracious professionalism,” she said. “It’s about being competitive with other teams, and going to championships, but it’s also about, ‘hey, do you need to borrow a battery?’ It’s about treating other people with respect, being competitive, being good teammates and learning how to work together.”

A handout provided to the board noted FIRST LEGO League means “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” It is a worldwide organization that is designed to get students excited about science and technology by providing opportunities for students to engineer and program their own robots.  

There are three elements to the program including the robot game, a community service project, and FLL Core Values.

FLL Core Values include:

• Discovery: explore new skills and ideas.

• Innovation: use creativity and persistence to solve problems.

• Impact: apply what we learn to improve the world.

• Inclusion: respect each other and embrace differences.

• Teamwork: individuals are stronger when working together in a group.

• Fun: enjoy and celebrate what they do.

Through participation, according to the FFL, students will discover different career possibilities. They can make positive contributions to society, and they can engage with their community.

Student will also learn responsibility, hands-on problem solving, and real-world applications of science and math concepts. 

And, students will gain self-confidence and self-esteem, team work skills, and applicable knowledge of science and technology, according to the organization.

Lorey said she is very passionate about the program and putting a team into the middle school is just a piece. 

Schulte pointed out that Lorey is a great resource and Lay will be there at the high school as well to help the middle school team as a resource.

“The group of kids that I see participating in this are the kids that don’t fit in some place right now,” Schulte said. “It just helps build their self-confidence, self-esteem and gives them a purpose.”

Schulte said they need to focus on more than just athletes at the middle school.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love athletes,” she said. “But not all kids fit into sports.”

Director Bill Seamon asked if there were grants available for the program, and Lorey said yes, for the rookie teams there are grants available. Seamon asked about a participation fee, and suggested $25 per student, as that is what MSSHAA charges for sports. Davidson said they had suggested a $50 fee in their survey to help with start-up costs.

“Eventually maybe we could collaborate with some corporate sponsors,” Garner suggested.

There will be an application process to make sure students are committed to the teams.

“If we have a student who says ‘I’d love to do it, but can’t afford to,’ we would make that happen, just like we do with sports,” Garner said.

Schulte said they will begin the program in September and go through March.

“It is an application process; kids have to fill out an application and fill out some questions to show they have put thought into it and prove commitment,” she said. “We are charging $30 and get a shirt as well.”

The board authorized spending $1,600 in start-up costs to purchase two kits, pay for the registration fee, and build a table for the team.

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