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Concentration.  Silence. The sounds of bolts and screws being tightened and put back in to place.  Eyebrows furrowed with frustration. Fingers flying over broken pieces needed to be put back together.  These are the sights and sounds that are not normally emanating from a middle school gym. However, on this particular day, students from all over Baltimore County are busy working on their robots.

“It’s really hard to put together your robot,” Demonya Wright a seventh-grade student at the Baltimore IT Academy said. “It took about two weeks to build our bot.”

Wright is with his team of two other students, Cameron Jones, Jamal Johnson and their teacher and coach, Usame Tak.  Together they thought of a design for their robot, ordered the parts from VEX Robotics and put the robot together once they received the parts.

The Highlandtown Elementary School No. 215 and No. 273 hosted this year’s Highlandtown Robotics Competition.  The competition is an all day event that is hosted and supported by VEX Robotics System design and is created in an effort to get middle and high school students excited about math and science.

“Our robot is really unique,” team member and seventh-grade student Cameron Jones said. “In the front it has wheels that spin and the bean bag is lead up the track and that’s how it is held.”

On the other side of the gym, the Robot Dolphins team from No. 215 Highlandtown Elementary is hard at work on their robot.  The clear panel on the back of their robot broke off and they are busily working to put it back on.

“I would change the wheels and the arm for next time,” a good-spirited Juan Mendoza said.

Mendoza’s teammate, Angel Castillo, is hunched over trying to fix the robot before the next competition. They are in fourth after the first round.

“My favorite part is scoring,” a laughing Castillo said.  “I like stealing the other teams bean bags.”

A robotics competition is not the large, human-like robots fighting one another like in the movie Transformers. Instead it is more of a sport with rules and teamwork.

Two students manage the controls that connect to the robot through a VEX chip in the back of the remote.  One student controls the movement of the robot and another student controls the crane, track, or scoop that the robot has in front of them to pick up the beanbags that are scattered throughout the course.  The green bean bags are one point when the robot is able to successfully lift the small bag into their designated troth and the yellow beanbags are five more points.

Besides the sport of the competition and the excitement the students get when they win the main goal of the competition is to help students become interested in math and science at a young age.

“The competition is really a way for the kids to come out and showcase their skills in a fair and equal way,” principal of Highlandtown Elementary No. 215, Nancy Fagan said.  “It means a lot to the kids to participate with their peers and to have fun.”

The two principals of the Highlandtown Elementary Schools were approached by two of their teachers who wanted to hold the Robotics competition at their school and for Baltimore students all over the area.  In order to hold the event the two principals needed to contact VEX, set up the website, make contact with supporters, contact the robotic community in the area and also make sure their facility had enough food and holding room for the event.

“Principal Fagan and I are always trying to find ways to support what our teachers do for our kids,” principal of Highlandtown Elementary No. 273, Denise Ashley said. “This was a way to motivate our kids to get excited about math and science and we supported the idea and the purpose of the event completely.”

Students can be excited about math and science, a topic that is not so easily glorified amongst younger generations, when attending a robotics competition.  Kids running back to their seats to fix a broken bolt on their robot, the look of concentration on their face as they control the robot to pick up the yellow bean bags and the hand shakes that come after the match showing good sportsmanship between all who participate.

Sitting quietly in their seats waiting for the projection board to show whether or not they made it to the quarterfinals sits the Baltimore IT Academy team.  Cameron, Jamal, and Demonya are all hoping to make it all the way and win the big prize of getting a spot in the National Robotics Championship in California.  Currently the Academy is in 11th place. In order to make it to the quarterfinals they need to be in the top eight spot.

“I’m feeling anxious,” a nervous Cameron Jones said. “I don’t want to lose.”

As the last match finishes up the three boys are on the edge of their seats.  The projection screen shows, 1st, 2nd, 6th, and finally in 8th place is the Baltimore IT Academy.  Demonya jumps up and yells we made it.  When asked how he is feeling he says, “I feel awesome!”

In the quarterfinals the teams are able to pick their alliance and teams who didn’t make the finals could still earn a spot with another team. At the end of the tournament Carroll County MD 4-H Program was named the victors and earned a spot at the National Championship.

“We’re going to come back and win,” a confident Cameron said.

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