West Ranch High School with Project 691 First Robotics team hosted the Southern California First LEGO League Championship on Sunday.
The championship featured more than 400 elementary and middle school students from Southern California, showcasing their work from the previous semester in building robots to complete various missions and completing a research project to improve transportation of goods.
Teams in Southern California competed in 19 different qualifying tournaments, and this year the championship was held at West Ranch. In previous years, West Ranch has hosted qualifying tournaments, but this is the first time the school hosted the championship.
The theme and challenge for the tournament were cargo connect, reimagining and innovating ways to improve global transportation. After two years of competition being held remotely because of COVID-19 disruptions, the championship returned in person.
The event had a hybrid model allowing 40 teams to attend in person and 10 teams competing remotely. The remote teams had judges and referees sitting on computers and working through Zoom.
The League’s mission is to foster science, technology, engineering and math in children with an international robotics program. Students engage in hands-on STEM experiences, building confidence, growing their knowledge and developing habits of learning, according to the FIRST League website.
“They are looking at ways to improve transportation of cargo and they also get judged on their core values and in robot design,” program delivery partner Paul Kass said. “They’re looking at how they built the robot and programming.”
Kass said, regardless of the obstacles faced with COVID-19, he’s glad to provide this competition for the students and families. Additionally, Kass is glad children can compete in person and interact with volunteers, judges and referees.
“The kids are having a great time and it’s wonderful to see their smiling faces, to hear their cheering and laughter,” Kass said.
Aaron Dolgin, mentor of team Project 691 and tournament director of Southern California FLL Championship, was a member of the robotics team while a West Ranch student and has become a mentor for the program in Santa Clarita.
He said many of the students are happy to get out of the house and experience this return to normalcy and interact with others.
Team Project 691 is comprised of 40 students from throughout the William S. Hart Union High School District. The team volunteered their time along with 60 other volunteers from around the Los Angeles region, according to Dolgin.
Dolgin thanked West Ranch High School for allowing the championship to be hosted on campus and providing team Project 691 a facility to build their designs for the robotics team.
“This is what we call our home base,” Dolgin added. “West Ranch has been very welcoming and easy to work with.”
Danielle Hedvig, a volunteer for the event and a second-year team member of Project 691, works on programming and design. She programs the functions to get robots to complete tasks.
Additionally, volunteer Jathin Korrapati is a fourth-year member of the robotics team who helps with computer-assisted design.
Team Project 691 competes in a competitive division, but Korrapati and Hedvig both enjoyed volunteering for the event because it allows them to pay it forward; additionally, it’s rewarding to impact the younger students interested in STEM, according to Korrapati.
Hedvig is amazed to see the young students competing and is excited to cultivate science in the younger student community.
“It’s super rewarding because I was in their spot a few years ago,” Hedvig said. “Eventually, they’re going to be competing and doing what we’re doing now.”