Several Alachua County middle and elementary school robotics teams qualified for the upcoming 2023 VEX World Competition and for the students and coaches, this is the summit for the challenging work they have been investing in all year.
The VEX World Championship in Dallas, Texas brings the best 800 teams from around the world to compete. Alachua County is tied for the third largest number of teams from Florida to attend Worlds. The 12 teams are comprised of eight middle school teams and four elementary school teams.
Coaches like Brett Anderson are proud of their students as they invest time and energy into the robotics program.
“Robotics season starts in May and goes May, so it's the whole year,” Anderson said. “They started for their build back in June building their robot, which is for Team Squirrel. They'll actually be rebuilding their entire robot off of a different design [for Worlds].”
J.P. Brown, coach of team Green House from Lincoln Middle School, said his students worked over 150 hours on top of their normal schooling this year on the robotics program to build, test, modify, and program their robot. Their hard work is paying off as, according to Brown, the team has outperformed teams from much larger programs in major cities such as Tokyo, London, Berlin, and Hong Kong.
According to their website, students learn in the VEX Robotics program about electronics, programming, mechanical systems, animation, 3D CAD, computer-aided machining, web design, and materials fabrication. These tools are meant to inspire creative problem-solving skills. VEX reports that 95% of students who participate in the programs show more interest in STEM subject areas and STEM careers.
Kate Casey-Sawicki, a parent of a student from Team Nat 20 from Howard W. Bishop Middle School, said one of the best experiences has been seeing her son bond with his best friend and other students over problem-solving.
“There's kids from China, Uzbekistan, Poland, New Zealand. What an awesome opportunity to meet with people from all over the world who are also geeky and are interested in becoming engineers one day or perhaps are just having fun solving a weird problem,” she said.
The teams have to fundraise quickly because of the short amount of time between the VEX State Championship and the VEX Worlds Championship. Most of the teams are sending letters and calling corporations and individuals to sponsor the trip to Dallas.
“It's a lot more fundraising in a very small amount of time," Anderson said. "They're [the students and parents] on a blitz at the moment. I know the parents are calling all the businesses as quickly as they can to see if they can set up fundraisers or booths outside."
Westwood Middle School has taken a different approach to partially fund their way to Worlds. David Sankey, a robotics teacher at Westwood, explained how the school uses the state of Florida’s CTE testing to fund programs like robotics.
“We have a vibrant technology program at Westwood, but many of the great technology programs are very expensive,” he said. “The state of Florida offers digital tools tests across a variety of topics that the students can earn a certification in middle school. The state gives us additional money when the students pass those tests. That money allows us to pay for the costs of certification testing and we can use the additional money for the other programs that we have.”
The money goes to fund several Westwood programs that the students enjoy and allows it to be almost free of charge to families.
“The registration fee for each team is $1,200 and we had four teams that qualified this year,” Sankey said. “That money is due fairly quickly in order to register for the event, but we were able to pay for that with the money that we get from testing.”
Westwood had over 300 students pass the certification exams, which generated thousands of dollars. However, trips like Worlds often exceed the budget, which requires more fundraising.
Many of the teams have started GoFundMe pages to supplement their other ways of fundraising.
Howard W. Bishop Middle School team
Wiles Elementary has two of the other teams going! Their GoFundMe is