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Three SCS teams place in first-ever robotics competition

Three robotics teams from Sheffield City Schools placed during the University of North Alabama (UNA) Robotics Competition, which took place on Saturday, Feb. 29, in Florence.

The competition was attended by 80 teams and around 400 K-12 students from across central and north Alabama.

Two W.A. Threadgill Primary School teams won first and third place in the K-2 division. The L.E. Willson Elementary School (LEW) sixth-grade team won second place in the 6-8 division. Both the primary and elementary school sent three teams each to compete.

It is the first year for the system to send robotics teams from these schools to a competition. Not only that, but it is the first year for either school to have a robotics program at all.

Smith said it was a big deal for Sheffield just to compete, explaining that registration maxed out just days after it opened in late August.

“I really believe this puts Sheffield on the map,” said Emily Smith, who teaches Pre-K-6 science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) at both the primary and elementary school.

“I’ve already had people contact me asking, ‘What are you doing in your classrooms? Y’all did awesome!’

“This is just a cumulation of a lot of things that have happened this school year. For us to do what we’ve done with just six or seven months of robotics, there is no telling what we could do in the coming years.

“When you look at us, we’re a small system, but we have a lot to offer.”

The primary school’s robotics team included Charlie Jackson, Adelyn Wicks, Mekhi Bland, Hunter Moody, Addison Moore, Ryan Wicks, LeSean Lanier, Nathan Wicks, Aleeya Walker, Isabelle Turner, Amos Akins, Peyton Booth, Eli Harrison.

LEW’s robotics team included Carter Smith, Drayden McElroy, Harper Berryhill, Greyson Guido, LaTasha Ruffin, Colin Harrison, Emerson VanDevender, Addison Todd, Anna Woodward, Rylik Woodward.

The robotics teams were led by Smith and W.A. Threadgill first-grade teacher Anna Kate Poag.

They were assisted by LEW media specialist Dayna Willis, LEW fifth-grade and afterschool teacher Eric Cagle, W.A. Threadgill second-grade teacher Anna Wicks and LEW special education teacher Holly Booth.

team The competition

This year, the UNA robotics competition’s theme was “Roaring onto the Raceway” and challenged students to complete three tasks in three hours using a robot that the team programmed.

The tasks required teams to code a robot to complete a course in 90 seconds, successfully maneuver into straight, parallel and angled parking spots and to pick up and deliver objects within a course.

Sheffield teams competed using Dash robots, which are programable with age-appropriate apps using a tablet or smartphone.

Poag said primary school teams took initiative and figured out how to complete the tasks among themselves. Primary school students have only been preparing for two months, just a couple of times a week.

“That’s what was amazing to me,” Poag said, “these kids were doing it themselves at six and seven years old.”

Poag said the event was a good team-building experience and primary school students were working out problems and celebrating each other.

Smith said that LEW’s sixth-grade team achieved its second-place position against seventh- and eighth-grade teams.

While her third- through fifth-grade teams didn’t place in the Top 3, Smith said they did exceptionally well. Smith said the 3-5 division had the most amount of teams participating and was naturally more competitive.

Sheffield’s two 3-5 division teams placed eighth and ninth out of 28 total teams.

“Considering how well they did and it being their first time attend, it’s pretty good,” Smith said, adding that grades 3-6 all practiced together while preparing for the competition.

“I told them that, yes, the sixth-grade team placed, but everyone had a part in that.”

During the competition, Smith said one of her sixth-grade students told her, “This competition is so much easier than what y’all had us practicing.”

Smith said this could be one of the keys to Sheffield’s success this year.

Interest in robotics has significantly increased following the local teams’ performances at the Feb. 29 competition, Smith noted.

She said she is still working out details on how students can register to be in the group next school year.

“I think we’ll have a lot more students that we’ll have to go through and consider for our teams,” Smith said.

The STEAM teacher also said that as interest in robotics increases, Sheffield Schools may consider attending other types of robotics competitions in the future where students may be required to design, build and code a robot from the ground-up.

“Dr. Davis had a vision for us to have a STEM program--for every child to have access to some STEM experience every week--and that just started this year,” Smith said.

“To me, for us to perform this well at this competition, it all boils down to our administration being so supportive.”