A group of high school students talk quietly as they work together in the shop room after school on a cold Monday afternoon. Senior Hunter Kelash makes changes to the wheels on a silver metal frame base. Assorted black and red wires stick out from the base as they wait to be connected. Kelash is assisted by Gabe Frederick. It is the ninth graders’ first year in the FIRST (for inspiration and recognition of science and technology) robotics program at Hinckley High School. The two students work together towards a common goal, to compete against other schools in an upcoming virtual competition.
The FIRST robotics program encourages youth to use STEM skills and improve life skills including budgeting to purchase parts for the robot, according to the FIRST website.
The students also practice gracious professionalism and coopertition. Gracious professionalism is the idea that students can be competitors while also helping and respecting each other. The senior students in the program mentor newcomers in a positive manner.
The Jagobotics coach, Joe Ranger, is in his sixth year coaching. He said the team graduated a large group of seniors last year, leaving a young team this year. Add in the challenge of the pandemic and the number of students in the program dropped from near 30 to 12.
Ranger said the students learn shop skills and decision making while building their robot. There is a media position, team photographer, finance and others. They also need to learn to communicate clearly and respectfully with each other in order to succeed.
“The students work together as a team,” Ranger said. “They are a bunch of kids who would normally not intermingle who come together and work together and many end up being friends. As an adult, it’s so cool to see.”
Dylan Googins, a sophomore, is in his second year in the program. He helps teach his peers the electrical aspect of robotics. He said his dad works in the engineering field and has taught him over the years.
Googins points at the robot set up with T-shirt shooters. He quickly rattles off the names of the different components and their purpose. He explains to his fellow students what the red and black wires will accomplish when they are attached correctly.
Classmate Keanne Crisologo is in his second year with the Jagobotics. Monday afternoon he works patiently to solve an electrical issue with guidance by Googins. Another sophomore, Isabella Ziegler, watches closely. She said she joined the Jagobotics team this year because the program piqued her interest.
The hands on portion of the program continues unhindered by the pandemic. The students still meet after school for two hours to problem solve and prepare the robot for competition.
The biggest change is not meeting with other schools and exchanging ideas and information before the big competition at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC). This year the students will set up an obstacle course at the school and run the robot through a series of timed challenges.
The teams will send the videos to the FIRST robotics organization to be judged. The judges will meet with the students virtually and ask the same questions they ask during the in person competition at the DECC.
Ranger encourages the community to follow the team Facebook page for updates and information. The program is open to grades 7-12. He said students are still welcome to join.