First-year L.B. team to attend VEX Championship


Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Lord Baltimore students practice for their first VEX Robotics World Championship. Pictured, from left, are: Makenzie Truitt, Cassidy White, Demetreus Moutzalias and Mason Haro.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Lord Baltimore students practice for their first VEX Robotics World Championship. Pictured, from left, are: Makenzie Truitt, Cassidy White, Demetreus Moutzalias and Mason Haro.

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This year, when Lord Baltimore Elementary School started its first afterschool STEM Club, some students couldn’t even name the pieces. Now, they’re designing a robot for international competition.

On April 29, L.B. will send its Team Zeus to the 2018 VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Ky. — a major accomplishment for a first-year team.

The team includes Mason Haro, Demetreus Moutzalias, Makenzie Truitt and Cassidy White (Wes Martin also competed with them at the Feb. 17 “SuperBot Saturday” competition in Georgetown.)

Teams had to design and build a remote-controlled robot, and program the computer element so the robot does as instructed. In this year’s challenge, teams are paired together to collect colored plastic rings and stack or push them into a scoring zone. At the world finals, they may even work with international students who don’t speak English, adding an extra challenge to overcome.

Now, the fourth- and fifth-graders are reconstructing their robot, brainstorming other robot designs and researching nifty engineering from around the world, including special wheels, claws and color-sorting techniques.

“We have two months. We can make our robot better,” Moutzalias said.

It wasn’t easy. In the beginning, “it was new to us, and we wanted to do everything,” Haro said. “We’ve learned to work as a team more.”

Stress mounted when their bot broke in the week before competition.

But the “Zeus” team has found its groove. They work well together, having discovered each other’s strengths in either programming, building or driving.

Coach Heather Wood said she is also impressed by “their interest in robotics. They dig deeper than we ask them to,” such as watching robotics videos in their free time.

“They started form not knowing the names of parts … to coming up with their own designs,” L.B. technology teacher Whitney McMillon said.

Winning in the qualifying competition was a pleasant surprise, since L.B. just started robotics with last year’s summer camp. Their subsequent afterschool STEM clubs have attracted 80 students, while allowing for several competition teams. After a grant from Tanger Outlets last fall helped start the program, McMillon said she hopes the grant money will continue to build the feeder program for the Indian River School District.

In the LB cafeteria, while the team assembled their practice course on the cafeteria floor, dozens of STEM Club students problem-solved nearby in their own organized chaos.

“So this has literally been going on since September, every Wednesday,” McMillon said.

“In my opinion, STEM is becoming more and more relevant at middle school and in the high school, definitely, but there are a lot of jobs here in the future that will require STEM skills,” McMillon said, “and that technology piece is important.”

She’s proud of the teamwork and creativity the students bring.

“They come up with their own ideas. So it definitely promotes a lot of critical-thinking skills,” McMillon said. “And they don’t even realize it right now, but they are kind of being engineers because they’re coming up with their own designs. It definitely will help them in the long run.”

IRSD the powerhouse

The Indian River School District made an impressive showing in state robotics competition this year. Six IRSD teams qualified for the 2018 world finals, in both the VEX Robotics Competition (the Selbyville Middle School Rocketeers and Indian River High School Indians Team 2) and VEX IQ Challenge (Long Neck Elementary School’s Long Neckers, Georgetown Elementary School’s Alphas and Georgetown Middle School’s Team B).

The world finals “is really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I want make sure they get a chance at that,” said robotics advisor and L.B. Assistant Principal Travis Bower.

Bower said past competitions have included special events, such as Girl Powered sessions, and special guests, including skateboarder Tony Hawk and a Mars rover.

Robotics has spread like “wildfire” in the past few years, especially as Bower helped start teams at Selbyville Middle School and Georgetown Elementary School.

Fundraising begins

Attending the world championships is no cheap proposition. It will cost about $5,000 to fly the team members, coaches and robot to Kentucky.

To help reach that goal, the team is planning two dine-and-donate fundraisers in Bethany Beach. The first is March 29 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Cottage Café. The second is April 17 at Bethany Blues.

Lord’s Landscaping in Millville is also donating a portion of lime sales through March 31.

What would the students tell anyone who donates?

“I’d say, ‘They’re nice people!’” Truitt said.

“Thank you!” added Moutzalias.

Tax-deductible donations are also greatly appreciated.

Anyone interested in sponsoring the team can contact Lord Baltimore Elementary School (302) 537-2700 or email whitney.mcmillon@irsd.k12.de.us or heather.wood@irsd.k12.de.us.