LIVERMORE FALLS — RSU 73 directors moved into the hallway during their Feb. 9 meeting to watch students demonstrate a robot they built as members of the Spruce Mountain Area Robotics Team.

Shelby Bryant, Ian Gingras and Dustin Jones, members of the high school FIRST Robotics Challenge team, came to the board to request approval for the team to travel to a FIRST Regional Tournament on March 7-10 at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. The board approved the trip.

Gingras and Bryant took turns using joysticks attached to a computer to move the robot down the hall of the Cedar Street Learning Complex. Jones stood with his foot on a balancing ramp to hold it down so the robot could move onto it. He lifted his foot and the robot rolled up as the platform lifted up and balanced with the robot in the center.

The competition course will be 50 feet long and the robot will be programmed to play basketball, Jones said.

FIRST is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

Team members, along with mentors, have been building two robots after school and on weekends.

The one they used Feb. 9 is their practice robot; another they are building will be used during competition.

“FIRST is a program designed to inspire high school students to pursue higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on mentorship from people in those fields,” Bryant said.

Thirty-six teams will compete at the institute, she said.

Each team has six weeks to build a robot to compete in the same game.

“They then ship their robots to regional tournaments all over the world to ally and compete with their peers,” Bryant said.

More than 1,000 people, including students and mentors, are expected to attend the competition.

Team members also attended the board meeting to request support for the FIRST Robotic team next year.

“We are a team of 20 to 30 students meeting through the school year, training and learning about STEM-related topics (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) like problem-solving, programming and teamwork while building robots,” Bryant said.

The team will need ongoing district support for coaches, travel and supplies. They have some grant money to assist them with the program; they also are fundraising and have recruited local sponsors.

“Our team has been very successful obtaining financial support from FIRST Robotic grants,” Gingras said. “Fairchild Semiconductor is a major supporter of robotics in Maine and pays for all team registration fees. This year, due to the fact we area a rookie team, we receive major support from J.C. Penney and NASA.”

But as time goes by, the grants will disappear and the program will have to be funded by other sources, he said.

They hope the program will help the area develop the next generation of highly skilled workers to rebuild the communities, Gingras said.

The area had two paper mills until 2009, when one closed. The other continues as a model facility, he said. The mills and other businesses, including shoe manufacturers, employed students out of high school 30 years ago. Most of those jobs are gone.

There is hope that the program, fostered through the Jay school system for years and now fostered by the consolidated RSU 73 school district, will draw new, high-tech industries to the communities.

“Our goal in offering FIRST Robotics as a co-curricular robotics team is to allow more students to access our robotics programs,” Jones said. “Being that we are a small school, not all students can take pre-engineering class, due to scheduling.”

The program has two major components to it, he said. The build team focuses on building and programming the robot and the spirit team focuses on fundraising, publicity and overall team support,” Jones said.

The ongoing theme of FIRST, he said, is “gracious professionalism.”

Each team helps the other team, if needed.

“We want everybody to succeed,” Jones said.

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