Champions of Circuits: Happy Valley wins at Robotics Contest

Published 5:15 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

By Bailey Marvel
Star Correspondent
The Happy Valley STEM students took their robotics skills to a national competition recently.
Students in the program competed in the Kalahari Classic, placing 69th out of 170 competitors from across North America.
In the competition, robots built by the students competed in games such as frisbee throwing or block tower building.
Happy Valley students described the competition as “a signature event where all the teams from across the nation came and duked it out.” Sponsors included Tesla and Nordson.
For Kyle Hunt, a former Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force, who has been teaching and supervising this program for the past few years, the program is just one more way to spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and math in the Happy Valley students.
“My whole career has been centered on training people, being a leader and manager. The job itself (in the Air Force) that I was evaluated on and instructed in was built around systems and coding. It was very scientific at the time… I had over 5,400 flight hours most of which I spent instructing others,” he said. “I got pulled into teaching by happenstance. I met the principal and he was impressed by my military background. He wanted me to take over the Robotics Program… I grew up with legos and model kits, nothing like what has been given to these kids here. They are leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at.”
In these courses, middle schoolers learn how to code and build small robots to perform basic tasks. By the time they reach high school, these self-motivated students are left to their own devices, under the supervision of Hunt, to build these incredible little machines. Happy Valley is one of the few schools in the Appalachia region to include elementary schoolers in the program as well as middle and high schoolers. Hunt teaches an Intro to Robotics class for fourth-graders.
This program is important for several reasons. First, it is an extracurricular program that gives students something to do after school and keeps them occupied so they can better avoid ill-advised behavior. Second, it is a program that helps students gain vital experience for their careers once they graduate from Happy Valley High School. “It opens so many doors for these kids,” Hunt said. “As superintendent of a squadron, I had 82 airmen that worked underneath me. I had seen they would come to the Air Force with no real skills.”
And, S.T.E.M. skills and classes are becoming a necessity for the modern workforce. “If you look back just 60 years ago, the technology that existed then is outdated and we have to stay competitive with the rest of the world. These military drones that keep people out of harm’s way were designed by someone who started out building little robots. It is all coding. S.T.E.M. is where it’s going,” Hunt said.
And of course, this program allows the students of Happy Valley High School to compete with other high school robotics programs from all over North America.
Programs like the Happy Valley Robotics Program are especially important in Title 1 schools like Happy Valley as it grants underprivileged children the opportunity to prove their intelligence and capabilities. “Being a Title 1 school, where 50% of the kids are on free lunch, there is not a lot of money that goes into these programs. The TVA is wonderful. We got a $5,000 grant from them, and I was able to take that grant and get the elementary program up and running. So for the people who read this just know we need help. When you see fundraising just know any donation (to this program) goes a long way,” Hunt said.

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