CORAL SHORES ROBOTICS PROGRAM DEVELOPS PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS

Members of Coral Shores High School’s Robotics & Programming Club pose on the game field for their robot. From left: Olivia Wilson, Anamaria Artola, Valerie Randall and Leonardo Mimbela. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

Those of us who tear our hair out when our 10-year-old PC flashes a Windows update alert on our screen — or who can barely change the password on our phone — may want to bow down in respect to the students of the Coral Shores High School Robotics & Programming Club. 

Every Monday after school, they willingly, with a relaxed demeanor and smiles on their faces, gather to create a computer program and build a robot for an upcoming contest, called the VEX Robotics Competition Spin Up.

When Keys Weekly paid a visit to this past Monday’s club meeting, the vibe was definitely chill. Mellow Celtic music was playing throughout the bright and airy computer lab, which was filled with a multitude of computer terminals and large touchscreens. 

“We’ve had these parts for four days,” said LaShann Biondi, the CSHS computer science and engineering teacher and one of the sponsors of RPC. She watched as the club members focused on constructing the playing field for the VEX competition’s robotic game. “They were itching to get their hands on it.”

The parts — paid for by a donation from local nonprofit Pascal’s Challenge — are from VEX Robotics and are used to create the robot game for the competition. The goal is to build and program a robot that can pick up as many of the provided discs as possible within the 12-by-12-foot field, then throw them into baskets. High school teams attend regional games that take place all over the world and culminate in a Dallas championship.

But that game is in the future, and really, it’s the journey and the camaraderie that matter for this club.

“I’m impressed with the kids’ initiative and wanting to do things the right way,” said Jorge Bosque, who is the high school’s automotive mechanics teacher and another sponsor of the club. While Biondi helps the club with the robot’s computer programming, Bosque focuses on its mechanical and structural engineering.

Club member Tony Garcia builds the chassis of the robot.

“What we have here is a glorified erector set,” he said about the robot. “The programmers in the club create the movement, while the builders assemble the component.”

The president of the club, high school senior Olivia Wilson, said, “I’ve always liked math and seeing things built. My brain just kind of works with instructions, like Lego sets.”

She pointed out that the robotics club is a nice alternative for students who aren’t as interested in athletics. 

“A lot of the time, people don’t notice us,” she said. “A lot of people don’t do sports. Our stories deserve to be shared.”

Teacher Biondi noted that the club is made up mostly of girls.

“To see that three-quarter of the officers is women is very empowering,” she said. “They usually shy away. And the students are the ones in charge. The officers meet to determine the agenda, which competitions to attend and fundraising activities. The students build the robot and code it, while Mr. Bosque and I are really just the sponsors.”

Valerie Randall, an 11th grader, is the club’s secretary and will be the senior member next year. “I’m excited to run it next year. It’s growing,” she said. Randall loves mathematics and has an eye on being an accountant and attending the University of Florida or MIT – “my dream school,” she said.

RPC treasurer and student Leonardo Mimbela, left, hangs out with club co-sponsor and computer science teacher LaShann Biondi.

“STEM, engineering and robotics is the future,” said Biondi. “It’s extremely important for students to develop their problem-solving and iterative skills. My engineering, computer science and robotics students all have several things in common: They must be able to identify a problem and go through the design process which includes developing a plan, testing the results and making revisions.”

Also? These kids will one day hold our hand while we’re dealing with that Windows update.

Teachers Biondi and Bosque would love to see the community support the Robotics & Programming Club. No money from the school budget is allotted for the club, so equipment, fees and travel expenses for the upcoming competition are paid for through donations. In addition, locals who are knowledgeable about robotics are welcome to come and speak to the club. For those interested in speaking or for more information about the club, email [email protected]. To make a donation, go to 

https://keysschools.revtrak.net/csh/csh-clubs/cshs-robotics-club-gr/ .

Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.