Students take on robotics challenge


Brittany Hively

Area students compete in the Vex Robotic Challenge.

Rainy Saturday mornings did not stop area elementary and middle school students from gathering at Marshall University for the VEX IQ Qualifier hosted by the MU Geeks and Gadgets Club. 

Students from Roosevelt Elementary participated in their first tournament with their newly formed robotics team, Robocats, over the weekend. 

Roosevelt’s team consists of 14 fourth through sixth graders and is led by Sarah Starcher, special education teacher and now, robotics coach. 

Starcher said the event being held at Marshall made things more exciting for her students. 

“Most of them have been to the college at some point and some are even planning on attending one day,” Starcher said. “Upon our arrival, they were eagerly asking what building we were in and what the student center was and how college kids utilized the facility.” 

Being from a small-town school, Starcher explained the importance of these experiences. 

“It’s important to expose our students to opportunities beyond our own classrooms so that they can be more rounded individuals and prepared for their futures,” Starcher said. “They were excited to see where some of their parents and teachers attended school.” 

This is Starcher’s first time leading a robotics team. She said she had heard about the program from a friend and was immediately interested. 

“I have a friend that has people who do this in Kanawha County,” Starcher said. “We need something like that in Mason County, so I kind of dove into it headfirst. I was, like, this is something I’m going to try and so far, it’s been really great. The kids love it, I love it.”

For some students, the team is putting everything they like together into competitive form.

“I like science and I like robots,” said Ryan Matheny, sixth grader. “The robot pieces look a lot like Legos, and I like Legos.”

Participants had the opportunity to build their own robot, as well as learn how to code the programing needed for it to run. The Vex competition allows them to put that knowledge to practice.

“They drive in an alliance, so we’re paired with other schools, and they are scoring as many points as they can in one minute. They also have a chance to drive, just two driver team and score as many points as they can, that’s their driving skills.

The students have also coded the robot to drive autonomously by itself and they get one minute to see how many points their robot can score by itself just from their coded program.”

Despite a rocky lunch where a few students found themselves stuck in an elevator, sixth grader Reghan Cossin did not let it put a damper on her excitement for the day. 

“I really like engineering and I really like science, so whenever they said they were going to have a robotics team, I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I need the paper, I need to fill it out, I turned it in the first day,” Cossin said. 

Cossin shared her excitement and how it is more than just building a robot

“There’s a lot of bumps in the road on the way to a goal. Like the counselor in our school has always said that,” Cossin said. “But really we’ve changed our design like seven times. There was a lot of technical difficulties, but we got it and we’re doing pretty good.”

While Roosevelt is an elementary team, the challenge has paired them up with various students from fourth through eighth grade. 

“Everybody has been super nice; the kids have made new friends. Another team brought them bracelets.” Starcher said. “They’ve been talking strategy, like what their robot can do and what it can’t and how they can work together to score the most points.”

Both of Roosevelt’s teams qualified for finals in the competitions and left taking home second and third place overall rankings. 

Funding for the program has come from various grants Starcher has applied for, fundraising, and community sponsors. 

Starcher is hoping to continue the program next year, as well as expand it. 

“I did get a grant through the Rick and Tanya Handley Charitable Fund. They have provided me with some smaller robots. It’s not Vex, but it’s Sphero robots and it’s called a Dash Robot. Those are geared more for younger kids,” Starcher explained. “So, I’m going to work collaboratively with teachers at school in first and second grade. We’re going to have them start doing some different activities. So they’ll just start the basic foundations of coding and programing.”

The team is working on their next fundraiser, but are always appreciative of donations.

“Each competition has a fee, but where I have two teams, both teams are charged for competition. There’s a couple that are free that we are going to,” Starcher said. “I’ve filled out some grants and we’re planning on more fundraisers too just to keep funding in our account that way we have the money there. Sometimes we find out we need more parts than what we have and we have to order them.” 

To contribute to the Robocats, contact Roosevelt Elementary school. 

Brittany Hively can be contacted at [email protected]