Building Blocks: HVMS receives grants to expand robotics program

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What was once a dream for Happy Valley Middle School eighth-grader Zach Stephens has turned into reality.
Stephens, along with his peers, was busy Tuesday morning working inside their school’s computer lab on their robots. A two-year veteran of the robotics program, the 2017-18 has been a bit different for the Warriors. What started as team two teams working in a classroom’s corner last year has blossomed into a five-team program with over 20 students involved and a field to work with thanks to a pair of grants from the East Tennessee Foundation.
Recently, representatives from the organization provided the school with a $13,000 grant, which will be broken into two $6,500 installments and an additional $1,700 grant to benefit an all-girls team for HVMS.
“At first, it was just an idea,” Stephens said Tuesday. “It has continued to grow since our inaugural year. This school and community are getting behind us. It’s beyond overwhelming. I’m excited to see the progress. I think it is a mark of showing the growing interest in STEM in the community. Everything is becoming so technology-driven, and it is great to get an early start on it.”
Consider the robotics program a little bit of a 360 for HVMS instructor Mike Dorsey. The former Happy Valley High School head softball coach took over the program in its inaugural year and saw the students come away with fourth and fifth place honors during last year’s state-qualifying competition at Johnson County Middle School.
“Seeing the students enjoy the program and being so involved makes it worthwhile,” Dorsey said. “We appreciate all the support, from the grants, to the school and the community. It’s a great way for these students to get involved and do something they love.”
With the funding, the program now can sport five teams and compete in no less than five competitions.
“The students will be able to compete in a lot more competitions, and they’ll be able to stay the entire night for trips. It’ll be a chance for them to enjoy the entire experience,” Dorsey said.
Hailey Crawford is another eighth grader that is returning to the program this year and shared in the excitement of seeing the growth of the robotics’ interest.
“We really didn’t have the money last year to do a lot of stuff,” she said. “This year, we can expand and do more. Hopefully, that leads to winning more competitions. It’s also big because it really makes this program bigger in the community and can do a good job of bringing everyone together because everyone helps each other out.”
Dorsey added Happy Valley’s high school and elementary schools are in the process of organizing teams. Valley Forge, Hunter and Unaka High School and Elementary are also working to get a program rolling.
Following up her classmates’ sentiments, Clara Smith, an aspiring aerospace engineer, added the experience has been something she’ll always remember.
“Being part of this since the beginning has been interesting,” she said. “From how the grant process works, to learn the interests of different people. It has really taught me how to work with people and know how to think in different situations.”
Gracyn Carder shared Smith’s though and added she was interested in the program due to the dream of entering the engineering profession.
But with the veterans still around, fresh faces, like Jason Ward, have nothing but high praise for the program.
Ward explained he got involved with the program after finishing first in a competition and receiving an invite to the group from Dorsey due to his interest in STEM.
And has HVMS continues to blaze a trail, Emma Johnson and a handful of students are doing their own, being the first girls-only team at the school.
Johnson shared a smile when talking about the group, saying it was fun to work in a team without boys.
Action gets underway Nov. 17-18 at Johnson County. Other competition sites include Chattanooga, Clinton and Nashville.
Visit online to learn more about the program and how to get involved.

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