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“It’s giving me purpose." Local high school students say robotics is more than an extracurricular

36 high school robotics teams from across central California competed Saturday in the Vex State Competition. Six teams will advance to the world contest in Dallas.
Posted at 6:34 PM, Mar 02, 2024

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — On Saturday, the Bakersfield College gym was packed with high school robotics teams from schools across Central California. The VEX Robotics state Competition determines which teams will progress to the world competition. The students on the teams work hard to ensure the robots meet specific criteria.

“Normally it's a lot of hours. We have so much to do,” said Campbell Cleveland.  

Cleveland, a senior at Centennial High School, says all the teams work independently to build, program and design their robots to perform the tasks needed to play the game. He says he does a majority of the programming for his team, and it’s taught him a lot. The most important thing he’s gained from the program, though, is something outside of the gears and codes.

“I met a lot of people in this program. I met one of my best friends," said Cleveland. "I learned so many other people– have met so many other people, excuse me, and learned so much about them, so yeah, I think it’s important to build connections. I think that’s been among the most important things that I’ve done.”

Although the teams compete against one another, they all understand and respect the amount of time and effort that goes into prepping their robots…

“I’m like one of the main builders so I, like, it’s something I really love," Navarro said. "I’m really passionate and I put a lot of time into it”

Maria Navarro attends Delta High School in Santa Maria. She told me that robotics truly changed her life.

“I was thinking about dropping out for the longest time because of Covid and stuff like that and I ended up going to Delta high school and everything changed," Navarro said. "Robotics helped me focus more and it kept me going. It was just, like, very, very positive thing for me.”

Every robot at the competition was built from scratch by the students. Carolyn James, a Garces Memorial High School student, says the skills she’s gained from the program are transferable to other aspects of life.

“Like just being able to use a screwdriver…I know some kids in my class who can’t," James said. "Being able to work with your hands and make something completely by yourself with your friends and then have it work the way you want to.”

For many of the students I spoke to, robotics is an extracurricular not built into their class schedules, so they have to find time in their days to dedicate to their robotic creations.

The Garces Memorial High School team consists of three students: Carolyn James, Krhystien Beltran and Jay Kim. They say they work in the early morning or after the bell rings—whenever they can find the time.

“So that makes us really proud when we complete the building or coding and then, if that robot works well in the competition or stage, I am really really proud of myself and really proud of my teammates,” Jay Kim said.

“It’s very helpful, including just academics in general. because you don’t really ever succeed until you fail," Beltran said. "So it’s best to do it over and over and find what fits best and just keep going until you find what’s right.” 

The students say making it to the state competition is a major accomplishment…and the main theme of robotics, they say, is trial and error. They keep going, and try to find solutions if something doesn’t go as planned. Things rings especially true for Maria Navarro. She says regardless of the outcome on Saturday, she hopes it helps put her school’s program on the map.

“It’s giving me purpose, it's giving me excitement. I’m very— I’m just very thankful for this opportunity," Navarro said." Even if we don’t end up going like I’m still still a big thing to be here it’s still putting out my school robotics for our district.”

Coach Colin Smith from Centennial High School told 23ABC that the six teams advancing to the world competition include three teams from Centennial High, one from San Luis Obispo High School, McFarland High School and Delta High School.

The awards are as follows: Overall Excellence Award -team 7983A from Centennial High School; Tournament Champions - team 920B from San Luis Obispo High and team 45637A from McFarland High; Tournament finalists - Teams 7983A and 7983S from Centennial High School. Smith says two additional teams, 7983F from Centennial and 93455B from Santa Maria, qualified from the skills portion of the competition. These teams will travel to the world competition in Dallas April 25 through 27.
Other awards included the Innovate Award, given to team 424D from Bakersfield High School, and the Judges Award, given to Garces High School team 11947G.

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