By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
Robotics teams across Killeen schools are rolling through competition this season, achieving more victories than ever before.
Meadows Elementary School robotics teams competed in two events this winter. In the Texas Computer Educators Association tournament, the Fort Hood school won first and second place, earning a trip to the state competition April 14 in Irving.
In FIRST Lego League competition, West Ward Elementary School in Killeen finished in fifth place out of 60 teams, its highest ranking ever in the second-round event.
In the same FIRST Lego League regional event, a team from Meadows finished in 25th and a team from Smith Middle School on Fort Hood finished in 37th.
This is the first year Meadows has competed in the FIRST Lego League event and it's the first time a team from Smith has competed in any robotics competition.
In addition, the Shoemaker High School Cyberwolves, longtime robotics competitors, are poised to take its newest robot on the road to compete in FIRST Robotics events in Dallas and Houston.
At Meadows, four fourth-graders and three fifth-graders are working toward improving their regional performance to compete for a state championship in April.
Fourth-grade captain Erika Hurtado said she and her teammates were nervous as they walked into their competition.
"It's hard to angle the robot," she explained. "Our program was a little off." Team members were able to make adjustments and score well.
Jaylen Hudson, the fifth-grade captain agreed that their team faced stiff competition. "We were nervous," he said, "but it was fun. I was happy and excited."
"We should get better and learn from our mistakes," Hudson said. "It's fun competition."
Students are working to add features to their robot in order to score more points in the state competition. "Now we know what to fix and we hope to win," Hurtado said.
Stephanie Young, campus instructional technologist at Meadows and the robotics coach, said her team ran into programming issues the day before the competition.
Students worked diligently to identify the problems in time to compete.
Now, she said, her students are determined to modify the robot to take part in a section of the competition called Lend a Hand, where the robot must reach into the opponent's area and touch someone else's robot.
"That will be a good challenge they have never done before," Young said.
At West Ward, the robotics competition season is over, but fifth-graders are beginning to work with younger students to continue the school's tradition of success.
Fifth-graders Natanael Aviles, Matthew DeJesus and Dylan Skowronski served as drivers, leading the West Ward team to its fifth-place finish at FIRST Lego League regionals.
The event was called Food Factor and required the robot to complete a series of tasks mimicking proper food preparation.
The competition also required students to present a research project, to explain their robot design and to present their core values.
The West Ward research project, completed in advance, showed the importance of cleaning and refrigerating strawberries, the second most contaminated fruit in the world.
Alexis Sommers, West Ward teacher and robotics sponsor, said the whole school supported their efforts with a Strawberry Day. Cafeteria staff helped as students discovered how temperature, refrigeration and sealing impact freshness.
The experiment showed that strawberries last longer when refrigerated in sealed containers.
"I was proud we had such a high score," said Skowronski. "We just tried to stay positive."
"It felt exciting," said DeJesus. "We were excited to go to regionals and now we want to practice more. It felt good to be fifth out of 60 teams."