RUSKIN – Still in its infancy, the Lennard High School Robotics Club has already turned heads and won awards. Working on a shoestring budget they’ve beaten some of the best schools in the county – but without some help, it may all be for naught.
“We need money to purchase parts and materials to build four robots for a Battle Bots competition Feb. 21-22 at USF,” said science teacher Jim Reve, a retiree of Lockheed Martin Aerospace who worked on the Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn. “Creating one basic wedge bot costs about $250.”
Lennard Robotics Club members will be competing against other high school teams and college students, most of whom will have ample funding to create their entries.
“We’ll be staying with basics,” Reve said, adding his kids have every chance to win – provided they can get the materials they need. “We scavenge, we recycle, we re-purpose as much as we can,” he said. “Maneuverability and strength will be the key.”
The club’s financial need goes well beyond this next competition though.
Six months ago it started with a handful of honors students who were naturally driven to all things math and science. But now 35 teens, many of them average students, attend the club’s twice-weekly meetings. Reve actually had to turn some away.
“I hate to do it but we don’t have enough materials for them,” he said.
Then there’s always the issue of funding for next year ...
“Because this is an extracurricular club and not an academic classroom, it cannot be fully funded through Hillsborough County schools,” said Margaret Oggero, Lennard’s science department head. “So we try to develop as many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiences as we can for our students, and this club is one of them.”
The Lennard Robotic Club’s first competition was the 4th Annual NASA EggLander event at Strawberry Crest High School in Dover last August. The team placed second out of 26 schools overall and Sarah Ferguson, then a junior, won first place for best design. Each of the students on the team was subsequently recognized in a letter from Gov. Rick Scott, a strong proponent of STEM education.
“For me the club helped set a path for college,” said James Exum, 17. “It gave me the opportunity to set goals for myself and helped me decide I want to be an aerospace engineer. Plus it’s fun working with friends on a challenging project.”
The club’s second contest – the BEST robotics competition at home last November – gave students the challenge of creating a fully functioning robotic arm from materials supplied by the Florida Robotics Alliance.
“Basically, they were given a pile of parts and raw materials,” Reve said. “Our students had to use these almost random parts to build the arm. Ours rotated 360 degrees, had an articulating shoulder and the kids designed, manufactured and built the claw out of a single sheet of plastic.”
For their effort the Lennard team placed second out of 12 schools that entered and beat Plant High School, long considered one of the best academic schools in the county, Reve said. It was a big win for his students.
“Interestingly the competition in this contest turned into bonds,” he said. “There was lots of camaraderie and open sharing of ideas.”
All of the club’s members are dual-enrolled at Hillsborough Community College SouthShore, about a third are girls, and there’s a good mix of students representing each of the four grade levels at Lennard.
Principal Craig Horstman is an ardent supporter.
“We’re getting more kids into something extracurricular and academic at the same time,” he said. “The club has been bringing some good news about Lennard High School to the community.”
If you’d like to help with either supplies or a cash donation, contact Reve at (813) 641-5611 or email him at [email protected]