This year a competitive Lego robotics team was established at Stone Bridge Middle School. Melissa Domen, the business leader of the Allentown high school robotics team, is the founder of the middle school team.
The name of the middle school team, True North Robotics, unites Stone Bridge Middle School’s motto of “Finding your True North” with the students’ passion for robotics. With the guidance of high school students on Redbird Robotics, 14 middle school students have learned programming, building, and teamwork skills, while having a successful rookie season this year so far.
On Feb. 13, 2021, True North Robotics did an outstanding job at the virtual Qualifying Event competition and headed to the virtual Southern NJ District Championship competition on April 10. The team received the Robot Design Award and the Breakthrough Award. At the Qualifying Event, the students placed fifth and sixth in the robot challenge game. At the Southern NJ District Championship competition, the students won the Rising Star Award and held an overall score well above the average for a rookie team.
Participating teams were judged on four different components during the competition including the Robot Game, a Robot Design Presentation, an Innovation Project Presentation, and a Core Values activity. For the Robot Game and Robot Design, the team built and programmed two different robots made out of Legos to complete a series of obstacles in 2.5 minutes. For the Innovation Project, True North Robotics invented and created prototypes of special swimming gear to help prevent swimmer’s ear and a mobile gym to encourage everyone to be more active.
In February 2020, Melissa Domen was awarded a grant by the Upper Freehold Regional Education Foundation to start True North Robotics. Since middle school level robotics competitions have a limit of 10 team members per team, True North Robotics split into two smaller competition teams. One competition team is called True North Robotics Impact and has eight students (Aaryan Desai, Ioanna Varouhakis, Vishek Desai, Luke Greenbaum, Taylor Lalla, Elena Mathew, Theo Renzulli, Jeremy George) , and the other competition team is called True North Robotics Innovation and has six students (Sean Gavin, Mia Laudien, Remy Fortsch, Aarav Patnaik, Benjamin Utset, Sienna Jones). Each of the smaller group team names are named after the Core Values of FIRST: Discovery, Innovation, Impact, Inclusion, Teamwork, Fun, Coopertition, and Gracious Professionalism.
The nonprofit organization FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. FIRST runs many types of robotics competitions for different grade levels from PreK through 12th grade. Both True North Robotics and Allentown High School Redbird Robotics are FIRST robotics competition teams. The True North Robotics’s competition level is called FIRST Lego League, and the Allentown High School Redbird Robotics’s competition level is called FIRST Robotics Competition.
What makes this team unique compared to other middle school robotics teams is that this team is 100% student run. Shane Conlin, Amelia Tricker, and Liam Granaghan are current Allentown high school students on the Redbird Robotics team and have been helping the True North Robotics team this season. Mr. Mark Guterl, Mrs. Stefanie Folino and Mr. Brian Myslinski have also been a great support for the team since its start. It has certainly been a team effort to get this team up in running with success. It has been quite an experience starting up a new competitive robotics team during a pandemic. The season kicked off in the summer of 2020 with online meetings. Students learned several skills like coding a robot, building robots, robotics competitions, the culture of the FIRST organization, and high school robotics. The end of the summer was also spent meeting in-person to build robots and obstacles made out of Legos. Safety measures such as social distancing and sanitizing were practiced at every single meeting. Both online and in-person meetings were held four days a week throughout the school year. Usually the competition season for middle school robotics starts in August and ends in December. But with it being a new team in a pandemic, this year’s season started in June 2020 and will be continuing until the end of April 2021. Soon, the team will start planning next year’s season.