St. Stan’s Robotics Club hopes to
‘VEX’ competition a second time


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — It’s rare for a start-up Robotics Club from a small Catholic school to make it to the VEX Robotics World Championships in its first year.

And it’s even more rare for that same group of students to return again to repeat — or hopefully improve upon — its success.

That’s why the members of the two-year-old Robotics Club at St. Stanislaus School in Fall River seem just a little more excited about going back to Louisville, Ky. on April 29 to compete for the second consecutive year.

“The competition has really escalated and I’d say it’s a lot more difficult than last year,” said Jacob Torres. “So you need more creative designs for your robot in order to score the points that you need to win. But if we were to compare the two competitions, we’ve made much more progress (now) than we did last year.”

“This year’s competition is harder,” agreed Zachary Falcon, whose parents serve as advisors to the Robotics Club. “But in terms of how we were scoring last year, this robot is better. We’re doing a lot better because last year we showed up (at the competition) with this little, tiny robot because it was our first time. This time we’ve learned from our mistakes.”

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With just days to go before the world championships, the six-member team is huddled together on the first floor of the St. Stanislaus Parish rectory across the street from the school, doing some timed test runs of their latest — and much larger — robotic creation.

“We moved our meeting place and practice area to the rectory, so we don’t have to set up and break everything down while we’re in the middle of building,” Torres said.

The Robotics Club, which is open to students in grades six to eight, is comprised of current members Zachary Falcon, Connor Gendron, Zoey Mills, Ryan Saucier, Justin Silva, and Jacob Torres.

Since its inception in 2016, the fledgling club has racked up an impressive track record, winning top honors in the Teamwork Challenge Award at the 2017 VEX IQ Crossover Qualifier in Hopkinton; and then winning the Teamwork Challenge Award and Robotics Skills Judges Award at the Southern New England Regionals in Worcester in March 2017. That earned them a place at last year’s VEX IQ Crossover World Championship in April.

This past December, the club won three awards at the VEX IQ Ringmaster Qualifier competition in Hopkinton — first place, Teamwork Challenge Award; first place, Robotics Skills Award; and the Design Award. The group went on to capture the same first-place prizes at the regional competition in January, and last month saw them winning the coveted Robotics Skills Award and Design Award at the VEX IQ Ringmaster Southern New England Regionals in Worcester, earning them a return ticket to Kentucky for a second shot at the World Championship.

Looking back over its whirlwind two-year history, the club members probably never anticipated this level of success. For most, it was their own personal interest in engineering and robotics that drew them to join.

“When we started, we didn’t think about competitions, it was just for fun,” said Justin Silva.

“Growing up, I was always interested in Legos, and (VEX) robotics seemed like it was the same idea,” added Zoey Mills, the team’s lone female member.

Ryan Saucier, who originally had an interest in computer science, said he gravitated towards robotics when he saw how much programming was involved.

“When I was in sixth grade and first found out about robotics, I kind of leaned more towards robotics, and then it kind of took off from there,” Saucier said. “I would definitely say that I’m still very interested in it and still looking forward to continuing when I get into high school.”

Using a computer language known as “Robot C,” the students build and program remote-controlled robots that they cobble together from Lego-like parts manufactured by VEX.

Much of the competition involves navigating the robot through a course and getting it to efficiently collect and gather a series of colored rings within a given timeframe.

Part of the STEM curriculum, which emphasizes the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the VEX Robotics program teaches students how to use critical thinking skills that they might not otherwise apply.

“At this level of the competition, all they get are (VEX) parts,” said Jean Willis, principal of St. Stanislaus School. “That’s all that comes in the kits. They have to program and design it — so this is a completely original design.”

“We have one of the more unique designs,” agreed Torres. “There’s this one robot (pattern) that everyone uses or people who are just starting out like to use, but this year we’ve strayed from that and now we have a robot that’s not considered in that category.”

The club’s newest Frankenstein-like creation goes by many names, depending on which member you ask.

“My dad had come up with a binary code — a 16-digit number — that essentially means ‘me,’” Falcon said.

“The big robot we named Barbara — it was just something random,” Torres said. “We were also thinking of calling it ‘Great Cow of Moscow.’ We had a lot of crazy ideas.”

Crazy names aside, it would seem this tight-knit group of thinkers are really onto something, especially given their track record to date.

Sadly, four of the club’s founding members — Falcon, Saucier, Silva and Torres — will all be graduating and moving on after this year, leaving just Gendron and Mills behind to mentor a new group of club members in September.

“I’m disappointed that we can’t continue it in high school,” Torres said. “But with endings come new beginnings. We can channel what we’ve learned to do more into our high school days. And we’ve got a couple of members who are going to continue on. They’re going to pass on the legacy.”

While the Robotics Club is limited to grades six through eight, Willis said they already have students involved in the school’s fifth grade engineering club who are “chomping at the bit to join the Robotics Club” next year.

In the meantime, the original six pioneers will be testing and fine-tuning their project in the hopes of taking first- or second-place honors this year.

“Last year, we ended up in the top third, which was a bit of a surprise for us all,” Willis said.

Those interested in donating to the St. Stan’s Robotics Club to assist with travel costs, replacement parts or competition registration fees can donate online at https://st-stanislaus-ma.ed.co/st-stans-robotics-club, or send a check to St. Stanislaus School, 37 Rockland Street, Fall River, Mass. 02724.

St. Stanislaus parishioners may also place an envelope labeled “Robotics” into the Sunday collection basket.


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