From left, Robestown Early College High School Drone Team members Daniel Salazar, Asher Tooley, Opria Mungia, Ty Tangle, Jayden Rodriguez, Nia Zuniga and EJ Perez practice in the school's robotics lab on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 in Robstown, Texas.  The team will compete at the 2022 Bell Advanced Vertical Robotics Championship in Arlington this weekend.

Robestown High School’s first ever drone team prepares to compete

Robstown – The students who gather in the robotics room at Robstown Early College High School High School after classes have finished for the day are the school’s pioneers.

Until last year, the school did not have a robotics team. Now, it has five robotics teams, as well as a drone team.

As they prepare for Saturday’s tournament in Dallas, the nine members of the Drone Team have been staying up late each day to perfect their equipment and strategies. On Tuesday, they were still waiting for a few last-minute spares to arrive.

“Our batteries, two of them shorted out,” said young Ty Tagley, checking out the team’s large drone. “Without the battery, we really can’t do test flights. What we’ve been trying to do for the past few weeks is get the drone physically up in the air. We’ve had some successful attempts.”

Robstown Early College High School drone team members Nia Zuniga, left, and Ty Tagle demonstrate parts of a drone in the school's robotics lab on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in Robstown, Texas.

On one attempt, the drone’s legs were broken after a hard landing. By brainstorming a solution, the team decided to build a sturdier metal frame.

But in robotics and engineering, problem-solving is part of the fun.

In the Bell Advanced Vertical Robotics Competition, hosted by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, students build and program ground-based drones and robots to solve challenges.

Tools and parts sit in a stand at Robstown Early College High School's robotics lab on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in Robstown, Texas.

Robstown competed in the first round of the competition in Austin in November, where many other, more established teams with more resources were. The largest drone was out of action on the day of the competition, but the team was still able to compete through creative thinking.

Flying a small drone for the team, sophomore Jayden Rodriguez found a way to complete tasks designed for the non-functioning drone. For the ground robot, Tuggle had the last-minute idea to modify the robot with tape between rounds to better accomplish another task.

Robstown Early College High School Drone Team members Ty Tagle, left, and Jayden Rodriguez fly a small drone in the school's robotics lab on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in Robstown, Texas.

“We’re trying to instill in kids a problem-solving skill set,” said Rachel Medrano, an education technology specialist in the region. “That’s why they never really stop. They keep trying and looking from a different angle.”

They did not win first place in the first round of the competition in Austin, but they were awarded a perfect team award for their communication skills, teamwork and enthusiasm, which allowed them to qualify for the tournament on Saturday.

“We may not have started with just the other teams, we may not have a lot of funding, but we have the spirit and we definitely have the work ethic,” Tagle said.

Robstown Early College High School drone team member Daniel Salazar works on a drone in the school's robotics lab on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in Robstown, Texas.

Each team member has a different set of skills and responsibilities. some can code; Others are passionate about 3D printing.

Sophomore Nia Zuniga has the build and the wires.

“I really like working with my hands,” Zúñiga said, “and I took care of all that stuff because my dad is a mechanic and works on cars all the time.”

Robstown Early College High School drone team member Nia Zuniga controls a drone using a phone app in a practice Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in Robstown, Texas.

Student Oparia Mungia had a similar experience. She was also inspired by her father and joined the team because many of her friends were on it. Now, the team is like a second family, said Mungia.

Sophomore Asher Tooley was new at Robstown ISD this year. His previous school did not have robotics.

“I’m really glad I joined because I’ve become really good friends with everyone,” said Toye.

A drone flies in the robotics lab at Robestown Early College High School on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in Robestown, Texas.

The new robotics and drone teams represent a growing STEM focus in the region, which also hosted its first ever robotics competition in May.

“When I heard about bots last year, I was like, ‘Heck, yeah,’” Rodriguez said. “When I heard it was going to be a class, I was stoked.”

The boycott started with a high school engineering class last year. This year, he added a robotics class at Seal Junior High School and a club at Robert Driscoll Junior Elementary.

The high school engineering class started with about 20 students last year, but has doubled in size this year, Medrano said. Next year, she said, there may be another drone team.

Robstown Early College High School High School drone team member Ty Tagle works with a drone in the school's robotics lab on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in Robstown, Texas.

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