A Pelham Bay school has a robotics program in its junior high that is attracting attention and winning high marks at competitions.
St. Theresa’s School’s two robotics teams, one each in its seventh and eighth grades, recently scored very well in a local qualifier of an international robotics competition called the FIRST LEGO League.
FLL uses robots, attachments and Legos to teach elementary and middle schoolchildren programming and coding as they complete ‘missions’ with the robots they build. It is an international competition.
St. Theresa’s seventh grade team came in third out of 33 teams from local schools, and their eight graders took home top honors in competition with ten teams, said Diane Fitzgerald, a St. Theresa Science teacher who moderates the Robotics club.
Both grades qualified for a city championship competition being held at CUNY City College on Saturday, March 16 and Sunday, March 17, said Fitzgerald.
“We are the only Catholic elementary school in the Bronx that has a robotics team in competition,” said Fitzgerald, adding that the school itself may be the only borough Catholic school with a robotics program.
Fitzgerald attributes the success of the two teams to their research skills and teamwork, as well as their dedication.
“They stay after school almost every day until 5:30 p.m. They are very dedicated,” said Fitzgerald, adding that the youth event came into school to work on their robotics during their vacation during the holidays.
Josephine Fanelli, St. Theresa School principal, said that the first robotics team formed at the school two years ago after the school partnered with an organization that funded a grant to teach the children robotics as part of their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.
The school partnered with Karen Kaun of Makeosity, a company that creates STEM and art curriculum for youth.
Kaun noticed that the children had an affinity for robotics, said Fanelli.
The school’s robotics learning began when the its current eighth graders were in the sixth grade, said the principal.
“In the summer the kids worked with Mrs. Fitzgerald and Dr. Kaun, and in the seventh grade they began to compete in competitions,” said Fanelli. “They basically have to make machinery and robots and they have to plan out missions – the plots they have to take (and the tasks).”
FLL requires students to run small robots, about the size of a brick (known in FLL as an ‘intelligent brick’), over a map and to program their robots to interact and manipulate objects on the map for two and a half minutes at a time, said Kaun.
“St. Theresa has been killing it this year,” said Kaun, adding that the judges were impressed with the seventh grade team’s robot design and the eighth grade’s ‘core value’ of team work.