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Pine-Richland Middle School robotics team firing on all cylinders

| Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
The members of Pine-Richland Middle School’s First Lego League club at its first scrimmage in December: Arjan Guglani, eighth grade, Arushi Bandi, team mentor, Michael Dye, eighth grade, Sedona Rocher, seventh grade and Aidan Meyer, seventh grade.
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The members of Pine-Richland Middle School’s First Lego League club at its first scrimmage in December: Arjan Guglani, eighth grade, Arushi Bandi, team mentor, Michael Dye, eighth grade, Sedona Rocher, seventh grade and Aidan Meyer, seventh grade.

Pine-Richland Middle School's new robotics club is taking off after securing funding from the community and support from the district.

The First Lego League, which was approved by the district in August, was spearheaded by Pine-Richland High School sophomore Arushi Bandi.

The team, called RAMbotics, has four members so far and participated in its first scrimmage in December.

Bandi is a member of Carnegie Mellon University's all-female robotics team Girls of Steel and wanted to bring the same opportunities she had in Girls of Steel to middle school students at Pine-Richland.

She's acting as the mentor for the RAMbotics team, and fellow Girl of Steel Kyra Halbert-Elliot, a Pine-Richland freshman, has been helping the group as well. The group is advised by high school business teacher Valerie Klosky and middle school gifted education teacher Kathy Deal.

The team began working on its programs later than anticipated after finding enough members and securing funding, Arushi said. But she hopes they will put up a better performance at the next regional competition on Jan. 17.

“The team got started late… and we were still working on some of the programs,” she said. “In the future, for the next competition, we're going to do a lot better because we now have programs perfected.”

The RAMbotics team received funding from Pine-Richland Opportunities Fund, the American Association for University Women and Near Earth Autonomy to get off the ground this year, said Arushi's mother, Archana Bandi. Archana also paid for the team's registration with First Lego League to get RAMbotics registered in time.

“PROF was really generous, once they found out about it, they came right on board,” Archana Bandi said.

FIRST Lego League is an international program open to children ages 9 to 14. There are more than 20,000 teams in 70 countries.

This year's RAMbotics budget was about $1,500 because of first-year start-up costs, but it will be about $500 in coming years, which can hopefully be paid for through fundraising, Arushi said.

The club meets once a week after school in the high school's STEM wing. There are three boys and one girl on the team in seventh and eighth grade. Two of the students had no prior experience with programming or robotics before coming onto the team.

Arushi said she hopes as the team gets into the swing of things throughout the rest of the year that more students, especially girls, will join the group.

“I know there are more than four kids in the middle school that would be interested in doing this,” Arushi said. “You don't need any prior experience or knowledge.”

The club teaches students basic programming and robotics skills, which allows them to compete at local, regional and national tournaments. Students build a robot from Lego parts, and then program it to autonomously complete a set of challenges.

As part of the competition, students also have to find a solution to a research proposal. The Pine-Richland students answered the research prompt of how to improve time management of middle school students by designing a Google application that would manage time and tasks. Students are also judged on teamwork within their own team and how they work with other teams.

“There are judges floating around just like spectators, and they always have their eyes and ears open,” Archana Bandi said. “Every small gesture counts.”

“You can compete with others and make sure you help each other get better too,” Arushi said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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