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West Valley City Journal

Learning life skills with robots: Monroe program qualified for state

Apr 03, 2017 10:30AM ● By Travis Barton

Monroe Elementary robotics team was one of six teams who qualified for the state competition at Granger High School. (Melissa Trujillo/Monroe Elementary School)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

For the first time in the program’s five-year existence, Monroe Elementary School saw their robotics team qualify for the state competition at Weber State University in February.

“It was really cool, I felt like we were idols cause we were the first ones in this school to go to state,” said sixth-grader Evan Potts.

Sixth-grade teacher and robotics coach Melissa Trujillo said students got to see what they’ve been aspiring to all year.

“That was a cool experience to take the kids on the campus plus give them the experience of a higher level of robotics team,” Trujillo said. 

From September through January, the 10-member team (with an additional five alternates) prepared for their region competition. Trujillo said the team is judged on three things: the functioning quality of their robot, core values where the kids display their ability to work together and a five-minute presentation that included a skit written by the students.

“They've had to learn to work together, learn to talk to professionals, they've had to learn how to present in front of judges. There's just so many skills that they've had to be able to do,” Trujillo said.

Not only did they build the attachments to the robots with LEGOs, but with the Animal Allies theme of the competition the team had to learn about their chosen animal: sea turtles.

“The kids had to know everything about sea turtles, research where they live, how humans are harming them, why they're important to the ocean,” Trujillo said.

It involved creating a solution to the six-pack soda rings that sea turtles become entangled in. Students developed a solution where a cardboard box with six holders was used—no rings and the box could decompose.

Made up of fifth and sixth graders, the team is part of the after-school program at Monroe, funded by a grant received from the Community Education Partnership.

“That our school's able to give them these opportunities, I think that's the neatest thing,” Trujillo said. “Even if these kids don't go to state, even being able to come together in a program like this is super cool because it's not offered everywhere.”

She added it gives students a chance to see other career opportunities besides sports.

The program originally began with Utah State graduate students who were former Monroe Elementary students. After the USU students had graduated, Trujillo took over for the first time this year that saw 30 kids try out. With the team’s success, the team can expect higher numbers at tryouts next year.

While the idea of building a robot was cool for the students and their coach, they said the benefits will far exceed the trophy they brought back to the school.

“This is something the kids will always remember,” Trujillo said.

Whether it was team work, communication, formal debates or friendship; students learned skills that will be important for the rest of their lives.

“I thought it would be a great part of my life,” said sixth-grader Abdi Mohamed of why he joined the team. “When I grow up, I’ll have more opportunities to get jobs.”

Sixth-grader Caden Trujillo, son to Melissa, said many careers involve the programming skills they learned.

“There’s lots of jobs out there that you need programming with like programming games, programming robots, drones, all that stuff,” Caden said.

Evan said being in the program helped him improve his social skills. As a result, the group is now filled with friendships they possibly might not have had otherwise.

“It combined like a lot of different people,” Caden said. “Because me and Abdi have been best friends since first grade, but other people like Evan and other people in there, we never really talked to each other, but this made us come together and be able to be friends with each other.”

The three plan to continue their robotics education next year when they go to West Lake STEM Junior High School to join their team.

“We’re taking them to state,” Abdi said.