Elementary students will take robotics challenge

HARLINGEN — Natalie Martinez and her classmates tore open plastic bags of Lego pieces for their new robotics project.

“Where do these go?” asked Natalie, 10, as she and her teammates at Travis Elementary looked through the robot parts.

“I’m excited,” said Michael Garza, also 10. “We are going to be building a robot out of Legos. Last year, we were just kind of practicing.”

Michael was referring to the Junior FIRST LEGO League, or Junior FLL, created last year at Travis and seven other elementary schools. The FLL taught children ages 6 to 9 how to build simple structures. FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” according to the website.

This year, three of those schools — Travis, Dr. Rodriguez and Stuart Place — have full FLLs, which means they’ll be competing, said Shane Strubhart, spokesman for the Harlingen school district.

They’ll compete with the same challenge against middle schools.

“This year we’re going all out, district wide,” said Strubhart, who is also director of the newly-formed Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District Robotics.

“The entire district is on board with FIRST,” he said.

This includes the middle schools and the high schools.

In the meantime, the rest of the elementary schools are starting their own Junior FLL teams. Noelle Araguz, 10, hoped she’d be picked for the team.

“I think it will be good,” she said after toying with some Makerspace activities from last year, one of the many STEM initiatives.

“It’s going to help us learn more about science and think more about what we do in life,” she said. “Maybe I can make a new kind of car or phone or new computer.”

Allessandra Yerena, 10, said she is looking forward to the program this year.

“I like the way you get to create your own things and work with them,” she said.

The program at Treasure Hills, as in so many other schools, is still in its “infancy,” said Roland Ingram, principal.

“We are still working out the details,” he said. “We have two coaches that will be working with the kids. They are going to talk about every detail.”

Ingram recalled a couple of years ago when the students learned a little about coding and robotics and they seemed pretty excited about it.

Sherri Durham, library media specialist, said the robotics program would be a great authentic learning experience.

“They can create whatever they want on their own,” she said.

Meanwhile, back at Travis, the new FLL team was familiarizing itself with the new robot part. The FLL had announced this year’s challenge, titled ANIMAL ALLIES.

“Your project mission this season is to make our interactions with animals better — hopefully better for all of us,” says the challenge.

Natalie looks forward to the new challenge.

“I feel really excited because I’ve never done something like this before,” she said. “It’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be educational.”

Aleena Briones was a little more familiar with the subject matter.

“I have tried this before this summer,” said Aleena, 10. “It’s better this time. I get to do this with my friends.”

This is all in line with the continuing journey laid out by the school district’s Strategic Plan, said Superintendent Art Cavazos. Robotics are an excellent way for students to continue their exposure to STEM studies — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.