Once a school threatened for closure, Runnymede Collegiate Institute has transformed itself into a sought-after institution attributed in part to its ever-successful robotics team.
As many as 56 students in grades 9 to 12 are in the midst of building a robot in preparation for this year’s series of competitions, the first of which takes place in Waterloo, Ont., in March. A number of those team members were at the school last Tuesday evening to continue the robot’s construction and promotion. They kicked off the evening of Feb. 12 with a Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner, compliments of parent-volunteers who have stepped up to spur the students to victory in the wake of the teachers’ extracurricular ban relating to Bill 115.
“Right now, it’s a pile of parts,” said team co-ordinator Bob Polden, whose two sons are part of the robotics team. “The robot has been built and dismantled and rebuilt a number of times.”
On Jan. 6, the team found out from FIRST (For Inspiration for Science and Technology) Robotics Canada, the host of the competitions, just what the robot’s task would be.
“The robot has to pick up a frisbee and fire it into a target – the more frisbees thrown into the target gets you more points and the most points wins,” said Polden in the robotics-dedicated workshop in the school’s basement. “The game changes every year.”
Billed as ‘the varsity sport for the mind,’ the First Robotics Competition combines the “excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.”
Under strict rules, limited resources and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” and hone teamwork skills while building and programming robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.
“The experience these kids are getting is incredible,” said Poldon.
In fact, Runnymede Collegiate launched a robotics class just last week as part of its second semester. This year is the school’s 10th to participate in the robotics competition. Its team is among the top three in Toronto, eighth in Canada and 197 out of 2,500 in the world.
“We’re anticipating going to the World Championships in St. Louis Missouri at the end of April,” said Polden.
The competition fee is $15,000 alone, he said. And there are costs to build and transport the robot. The team currently has corporate sponsors, but is looking for others that would like to get involved.
Michael Nucci, co-captain of the team, says he joined the team because he liked the idea of building robots.
“I like building and fiddling with things,” said the Grade 12 student.
Runnymede’s robotics team was a major draw for most of the team members, they agreed.