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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest High helps start robotics tech teams at Midvale Middle, Union Middle

Sep 17, 2018 02:04PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Hillcrest High team helps other students begin school teams and learn about robotics, as this robot was used during a summer camp. (Husky Robotics/Hillcrest High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected] 

Hillcrest High robotics teacher Clief Castleton is a believer in the FIRST program. Having started the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) program during the 2012-13 school season — and advancing to nationals in its rookie season — Castleton sees the impact it has on students. 

“It can change lives,” he said. “There are opportunities for college scholarships and for students to work with industry mentors, which can lead to summer internships. Even if the interest isn’t in science and technology, there’s other skills like advertising and marketing to learn. The goal of FIRST to not only improve yourselves, but to help those around you become better. It can give every student an opportunity to learn.”

Up until this fall, Hillcrest High only had its FRC, but now also has a FIRST Tech team (FTC), which is geared to teams grades seventh through 12th, to design and build a smaller-sized robot. 

“It gives students another venue to work with a team, but it doesn’t have the pressures of a couple months of a build season like FRC,” he said, adding that last year, Hillcrest’s FTC team was successful, having competed at the state competition in its second year. 

This year, Hillcrest, with about 60 students in robotics classes and on the teams, is not only adding a second FTC team, but the Huskies are helping Midvale Middle and Union Middle start their own teams. 

“I like to promote diversity and access to everyone. Kids make friendships here. They break out of their lifestyle cycles and are able to gain new skills,” Castleton said. “Midvale Middle already has a FLL (FIRST Lego League, for students in grades fourth through eighth) team so they’re all on board to begin a FTC to allow more students access to a team. Union has a lot of teachers and their principal is very interested in having a robotics class meet after school so we’re looking at helping to set that up.”

Robert Violano, who will coach the Midvale Middle robotics team along with John Henrichsen and Brandon Cornaby, said that the FTC team will help build the robotics program at the middle school. 

“Our hope is that instead of having a FLL team and a FTC team as two separate entities we have a ‘robotics team’ that supports each other in their varying interests,” he said. “We want to have a place where kids can explore their interests and hope that by partnering up with HHS they can continue with their interest past eighth grade and beyond.” 

Union Principal Kelly Tauteoli said that as one of three designated STEM middle schools across the state, their faculty would like to increase opportunities for students in those areas. 

“We’re a very strong math and science school and we’d like to give students more engineering opportunities,” she said. “Robotics is a good way they can dip into it and into coding. We’re looking at getting our robotics program up and going.” 

Castleton also said that with both middle schools feeding into Hillcrest, it will give students a basis from where they can learn once they reach high school. Already, the Hillcrest program has been helping guide elementary students to learn about robotics through a summer camp. 

With the FTC kick-off slated in September, he is helping the teams secure funds and his current students are available to guide the middle school teams as well as be active mentors on the new Husky FTC 10-member team. 

“We are excited that more students are able to learn and be impacted. It’s well documented that students who participate have a greater interest in their school and are interested in college and are gaining skills at the same time. What’s really cool is that anyone of any skill is welcome and the students are learning from each other. There’s a real bond there that unifies students across the school,” Castleton said. 

Tauteoli said the partnership also will help to build a friendship when the students attend the high school. 

“They will already know some faces there, which will make the transition easier. It’s very collaborative and generous that the Hillcrest kids will come here and help our kids,” she said. 

This year, all FIRST teams will compete under a similar space theme, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon. The tech challenge theme is to explore the uncharted planets in Rover Ruckus while the robotics competition is titled, “Destination: Deep Space.” 

Last year’s Hillcrest High FRC team competed in the semifinals in both Idaho and Utah, where they reached the semifinals and were presented with the gracious professionalism award. In the past, the team has won Rookie of the Year, Entrepreneurship Award and Innovation Design and Castleton has been honored as the Outstanding Volunteer. 

“We treat our teams as a program. It builds camaraderie and gives students a place where they belong, fit in and can just be a kid. It doesn’t matter if there are cultural differences, language barriers or whatever; it’s a place for all students and an opportunity for them all to learn,” he said.