Students win awards at Robotics Olympics

Hillcrest students hone engineering skills in their free time, win awards at Robotics Olympics

By: Jeff Vorva, Daily Southtown
Leterious Hall once quit the team.

Delvon Harvey was not even invited to compete.

Yet on a Saturday in April, these two Hillcrest High School juniors stood tall as they finished first and second respectively in the Sphero Maze Runner division of the Southworks Engineering and Robotics Olympics at South Suburban College in South Holland.

Hall was discouraged for a while, but was convinced to stay with the team. Harvey convinced his coach, Jason Thomas, to enter him into the competition. And the Hawks had their best showing in the four years of the meet.

Thomas said Hillcrest does not have an engineering or robotics course in its curriculum, so the students had work on their craft in their free time. They succeeded against schools who have robotics as a part of their curriculum.

Other Hillcrest students who took part in the competition were Latrelle Hall, Trevon Leland, Jameir Lee, Ashani Moore and Imani Moore.

The robots used in the maze event are transparent round balls between the size of a baseball and golf ball. The idea is to guide the robot through a maze.

But not quite in real time. The players do not have control during the competition. The preparation is the key.

“It’s all done in codes,” Leterius Hall said. “Once it starts, there is nothing we can do but watch.”

So the key is to program the right codes.

“There is a lot of practice,” Hall added. “It’s a lot of trial and error. You just do what you have to do and if you mess up, you fix it.”

“It’s fun working with the robots,” Lee said. “At first, I didn’t know what I was doing but then it got kind of easy. It’s all in the head.”

Thomas said he enjoyed competing in the South Suburban College event.

“That’s our big event of the year,’’ the coach said. “During COVID, it would have been virtual. We sent our codes in and pressed play. Make the code and send the code. But it’s better to do it in person.”

“They exceeded my expectations. I was very proud of them.”

Thomas is excited about the team’s “bright future” with sisters Ashani Moore and Imani Moore, who are both freshmen.

“I really like being able to work with the upperclassmen and learning new things,” Ashani said regarding joining the robotics team.

While practices are held at Hillcrest High School, the team is also under the umbrella of the 3 Seeds Mentoring group.

It’s an Upward Bound program that bills itself as a “pre-college program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, designed to motivate eligible high school students to enter and successfully complete postsecondary education.”

There are six programs involved — the robotic club, Trio Upward Bound, an educational talent search program, an ambassador program, a media program and a male mentoring program.

Thomas is the executive director of the program, which has been in place since 2016 at schools in the Country Club Hills area.

“We work with students from sixth grade all the way through 12th grade,” Thomas said. “The goal is college completion and career readiness. We expose them to things that might not have been aware of.”

One of the areas he enjoys is the media segments his students crank out.

“We do podcasts and interviews,” Thomas said. “We pick a topic and get to argue it out. Recently, there was a spirited debate on if COVID helped students or not. Did it make school easier or harder?”

He said the program has involved 562 students, many who have went on to colleges in recent years.

While the main focus in on high school students, he includes junior high school students in the mix because “we know we have to get to these kids earlier,” Thomas said.

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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