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North Clayton Middle takes first place at FLL regionals

Photo by Rachel Shirey
RoboTigers teammates (from left) Dagm Behailu, Jason Purce, Bailey Jordan and Ali Sesay demonstrate their solution on senior issues following Saturday’s competition with team coach Mark Smith. The team won first place at the FLL regional competition at Clayton State University.

Photo by Rachel Shirey RoboTigers teammates (from left) Dagm Behailu, Jason Purce, Bailey Jordan and Ali Sesay demonstrate their solution on senior issues following Saturday’s competition with team coach Mark Smith. The team won first place at the FLL regional competition at Clayton State University.

By Rachel Shirey

rshirey@news-daily.com

COLLEGE PARK — Following Saturday’s first-place win at First Lego League Senior Solutions Regional Competition, the North Clayton Middle School team of eight sported their maroon team shirts in pride, and raved over their new 2-foot tall trophy.

The RoboTigers, composed of Bailey Jordan, Dagm Behailu, Jason Purce, Ali Sesay, Terrance Dorsey, Kendall Jordan, Victoria Haggwood and Camille Taylor, competed against eight competition tables and more than 40 teams.

“It was like being at a science fair with a lot of little kids because there was only one other school there, at least maybe two more schools there, our age,” Haggwood said. “We were surrounded by a lot of little kids.”

This is the team’s first season competing in the Lego League events, and they are the only team competing from Clayton County.

“It was like nothing we’ve ever experienced, because this was our first FLL competition,” Behailu said.

The team began practicing in late September and has been practicing for one to two hours every day throughout the week, including some Saturdays.

However, the group said the work was worth it because they earned second place at the qualifiers competition and first at the regional competition. They are now preparing for the state competition and have high hopes.

“The first two weeks was really fun,” Behailu said. “We were putting together the board and then we found out that was only a fourth of the competition, and we still had the technical design, and we still had our idea, which was a skit, and next was core values.”

The team said they have been faced with minor rifts and challenges, but that overall they managed to delegate their tasks and work on the project efficiently. They said they are hoping to set the stage for Clayton County and encourage other schools to participate next year.

“Basically, most of us wanted to make history in Clayton County by being the only school in Clayton County to do this type of activity,” Kendall Jordan said.

“We wanted to start a chain reaction. Once we do it, other schools will want to do it,” Haggwood added.

Members began working with robotics last summer while participating in the Morehouse College Trio Program, which has continued to support the robotics team with a $500 grant for the purchase of materials and entrance fees.

The team had to purchase specialized Lego kits to create robots and program them through laptop instructions to perform specific tasks. 

“We didn’t really have, like, a professional team,” Bailey Jordan said. “We were just seeing what we could do with the robot and coming up with ideas on what we could accomplish while working with the robot. And then this year, [team coach] Ms. Johnson came to us and asked if we wanted to start a team. That’s how it all started.”

Lego League is an international program that encourages hands-on robotic activities and designed to get children excited about science and technology.

Each team is allowed a coach and maximum of 10 players between the ages of 9 and 14. Teams have 8 weeks from September to analyze their problem, design, program and test an autonomous robot to complete the project.

The North Clayton robot was built to offer a series of solutions for assisting the elderly prevent dehydration.

“It was hard,” Haggwood said. “It was complicated at times because they didn’t assign this to us. We came up with our lines and had to learn our lines. And then not only that, we had to make sure we had time to set up the props, and make sure we stayed within the five-minute time limit.”

After each competition, the team had to make adjustments on the prototype to accomplish another set of competition skills.

The robot program is more than learning to build a robot, write computer code, or enhance mathematics skills, team coach Nezetta Johnson said in a press release. Students decide on strategy, programming, researching, choosing a problem and innovative solutions and presenting at a tournament.

“Teams must create an innovative solution to solve a real world problem,” she said. “They interviewed several seniors and determined the direction they would take. Their senior partner is Clayton County Commissioner Virginia Gray.”

Johnson added that the reason she believes the team has had success in winning is that beside all the hard work and dedication, they have fun.

“Our kids compete like crazy but still respect their teammates, coaches and even their competitors.

Coaching the team with Johnson were Mark Smith and Stacy Nelson. Principal Shakira Brown, Zenobia Johnson, Sandra Caughman and Marshall Troup of Morehouse College, served as student mentors and supporters. Team sponsors are Morehouse College and Boeing.

 The RoboTigers will advance to the next round of competition, which will be held at Georgia Tech Jan. 26.