When the five students on Paul W. Bryant High School’s robotics team arrived at the University of Alabama’s Robotics Competition April 1, they hoped they wouldn’t come in last place. The team, which is still fairly new to robotics and hadn’t competed as a group before, was nervous.
Never did they think they’d surpass the 56 other teams competing in the state-wide competition, which requires students to work as a team using code to solve problems and have miniature robots that they created to complete tasks.
But they did. Paul W. Bryant High School’s robotics team won first place in the high school division and was named overall grand champion.
“They were so excited, they were counting off the scores, and every time they got one step higher, they would so excited,” said Destiny Langford, the robotics coach at PWBHS. “And when they got first place and overall champion, they asked if they were going to scream and I said yeah! They were so excited. And I’m so proud of them.”
The Bryant team has practiced for the UA competition since December, pulling practice problems from old competitions, building courses, and running through problems.
“We wrote code, would try one thing and it wouldn’t work, so they would de-bug it,” Langford said. “Running those practice problems really helped us prepare for anything, because they don’t really tell us what the problems are until we get there. You have to work with anything they throw at you.”
Another Tuscaloosa City Schools team, compiled of five fifth graders from Verner Elementary, came in close behind the Bryant High School team, only 10 points shy of the overall champion award. Verner placed first in the elementary division. Three other TCS schools also placed—Eastwood Middle School won second place and Northridge Middle School won third place in the middle school category, and Tuscaloosa Magnet Elementary won second place in the elementary category.
The Verner students have worked with Verner gifted teacher Haley Day since January, learning coding and building their robot. The coding skills are great for students to learn, but more than anything, the robotics competition teaches the students important skills that can last a lifetime, Day said.
“We have to work with people in everything we do,” Day said. “They have to work with (their team) for three hours, and worth through different challenges they might have, talk through it, and compromise. Those are things that are good for them, and things they need as lifelong skills.”
Like the PWBHS team, Verner also didn’t expect to win. But as the competition went on, the Verner team crossed their fingers as they compared their scores and realized they were rising to the top.
“I was so proud of them, I ended up crying,” Day said. “They had their fingers crossed, and were extremely confident, I was just so proud of them because they worked so hard on it.”
For the students, the competition could end up having other lifelong impacts. Verner 5th grader Jailah Preyer, said that it’s because of her experience on the robotics team that she hopes to work for NASA one day.
“I like robotics because it’s fun to do, it’s challenging and I can see myself doing it when I grow up,” Preyer said.
Robotics can also open up doors and opportunities, including scholarships, that students might not otherwise have, added Langford.
“I want these students to know they are much more capable than they realize, and there are opportunities out there for them,” Langford said. “As a school, and as a system, we are recognizing the importance of STEM and pushing that. We are making strides in the right direction.”