This past Saturday was a banner day for Randolph Robotics. Our Middle School team won the School’s first state championship in a program that we began just a few years ago. Nick Bonaker, Skyler Eastin, Austin Lu, Coner McFarlin, and Hari Pingali were on the original team, and the excellence that the team’s achieved is a testament to their commitment and perseverance over the years and the support they’ve enjoyed from coaches Linda Hanson and Shane McFarlin. Wyatt Robinson joined the team last year, and Matthew Phillips and his programming skills provided the last missing link to a team that has now qualified for national competition this summer.
I visited with the boys and Coach Hanson yesterday during break, and the conversation is already etched in my ledger as a highlight of the spring semester. When I asked about what made the team successful, boy after boy stepped up with the same kind of answer: “We were more well-rounded than the other teams.” “We didn’t bicker over who did what.” “We’re all pretty good friends and we get along.” “We had to be ready for everything.” When I asked about what they’ve learned that’s most important, they chimed in that it’s critical in life to get along with others and to cooperate as a team to accomplish a common goal.
Mrs. Hanson praises the boys for their ability to “think on their feet” and respond positively to changing and unpredictable conditions. It’s even more interesting to me that the team is comprised primarily of introverts, yet these boys understood from the start that it would be their ability to trust each other and work together as a team that would result in the success they sought. I’m reminded of Susan Cain’s excellent book entitled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and I’m struck that these boys have stepped up and stepped out in pursuit of a goal to which they all aspired.
For those readers who (like me!) are unschooled in the world of robotics competition, qualifying teams are judged in equal measure in four separate areas: Project, Robot Design, Core Values, and Robot Game. Coach McFarlin developed and implemented a Robo-school curriculum that the boys committed to outside of the season. The practice paid off when the team had to rebuild their malfunctioning robot from scratch two days before the state competition.
They’ve also put into practice the Randolph belief that education exists to make the world a better place. The team’s project is the Elder Connection Project, an effort to provide older generations with technical assistance and for youth to benefit from their wisdom and expertise in return. This is community learning and relational learning beyond the classroom, and I’m very excited that the team is sharing their project with the Village of Promise and with Redstone Village.
Each one of the team members participates in the Middle School Band and most are involved in the world of Randolph athletics. They are living out our hope that students here can become part of something bigger than we are as individuals and through these efforts become a meaning maker and (as Adam Bernick suggests) a “culture creator.” I’m very proud of these boys and their humble and modest commitment to team over self. Their approach to learning reminds me of a recent blog post from Seth Godin, who notes that “for truly important problems…you’re willing to let someone else take the credit if that’s what it takes to get it done.”