MONTELLO — The success of Montello High School’s new robotics club is all about the students, if you ask their coach.
“I don’t know anything about robotics,” Janene Perkins said with a laugh. The club’s coach, who also serves as chemistry and physical science teacher at MHS, helped secure two grants totaling $5,000 to start the club, which has 12 “very busy” student members.
“They’re self-driven. They come in at lunch and after school a couple days a week and during their study halls,” Perkins said of the freshmen through seniors.
The robot-building students recently competed at the Berlin Area School District VRC (VEX Robotics Competition) Tournament, where students competed against 22 teams from Wisconsin schools. In a game called “Nothing But Net,” MHS students in two teams — Team Spunky Monkey and Junk Yard — used their robots to score colored balls in high and low goals, elevating their robots in a designated climbing zone.
The game challenged students to apply what they’ve learned in areas of science, technology, engineering and math, Perkins said.
MHS students fared well in the Berlin competition — with Spunky Monkey pacing 11th and Junk Yard placing 18th. Spunky Monkey was also one of three teams nominated for the Judges Award, the criteria for which involve a team showing “exemplary effort” and perseverance.
The robotics club will compete again Jan. 9 in Somerset, Jan. 23 in Appleton and Jan. 30 in Fond du Lac. The events are free and open to the public. VEX Robotics Competitions are held worldwide for middle schools, high schools and colleges, with more than 12,000 teams from 33 countries. Competition culminates in April with the VEX Robotics Competition World Championship event in Louisville, Kentucky.
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Since it’s the Robotics Club’s first year at MHS, early success is a great sign for the future of the program, Perkins said.
“We encourage the kids to think outside the box,” Perkins said, noting the robotics program is gaining in popularity. Perkins plans to start a robotics program at the middle school next year, hoping to field at least a team of six so they can compete in area competitions.
“I see it growing substantially because we have a lot of middle school kids already excited about coming to high school. ... Kids interested in engineering are going to go a lot further.”
“There’s not a lot of engineering programs out there,” Perkins said. “Most of the top careers are engineering careers, the high-income (jobs). A lot of high schools don’t offer (robotics), and this is a way to get kids interested in the STEM fields you wouldn’t normally see.”
Perkins expects Montello to field three high school teams next school year. High interest from students has been aided by recent visits from Clint Ewert, an Abbotsford native from Team Whyachi on the TV show “BattleBots,” and Kenneth Whaley, a retired NASA engineer and Packwaukee native who worked on a robot that went to the moon.
“It gets the students not out for sports. We’re tapping into a whole other group of students who don’t normally do extracurricular activities.”