CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
The Hawaii Botball Regional Tournament was held Saturday at the Hawai'i Convention Center. Teams designed robots to do tasks including collecting balls and pineapples and clearing away lava debris.
Botball lessons go beyond robotics
Troubled youngsters learn the value of teamwork and trust
Learning math and science to design and build robots was tough, but social lessons might have been tougher, members of Olomana School's Botball robotics team indicated.
"Obstacles we had to overcome were to just try to relax, be patient and work with one another," they wrote for a presentation to the judges Saturday at a regional tournament.
"Teamwork was the hardest part," said one youth. "If you've got a small area and you've got to work with someone stubborn, it won't work. But we had fun."
Olomana School, which serves the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua, is the first of its kind in the nation to participate in a Botball robotics tournament, officials said.
The team captured three awards in regional competition Saturday at the Hawai'i Convention Center -- fifth place overall, third place in double elimination (against another team) and judges' choice award for "best positive attitude and determination to succeed."
Teams had to design robots that would automatically tackle a series of tasks, including collecting balls and pineapples and clearing away lava debris.
The team's supporters -- BAE Systems mentors, Olomana teachers, HYCF officials and guards, and Martha Torney, head of the state Office of Youth Services -- were as excited as the four boys.
Melissa Zen, teacher in charge of the boys, said she saw an e-mail to the principal about Botball and was looking for something fun for kids and teachers after the stress of federal testing requirements.
She said they were not sure they could do it in a school with incarcerated youths. But educational assistant Darlene Wagner "has been with the boys every step of the way, and the mentors were wonderful," Zen said. "All of us are so proud."
NASA paid $2,300 for the registration, she said, and 20 boys signed up. Ultimately, only five stuck it out, and one was released before the tournament, she said.
"They had conflict to begin with, but as it got closer, they were more enthusiastic and put in more hours. ... They've gone so much further than they even expected."
"The guys have impressed themselves," said Wagner, who worked intensively with the boys for seven weeks, learning technical skills. They also had to keep notes on their progress and give an oral presentation to judges.
"They didn't know they were capable of this," Wagner said. "They have changed so much."
"These kids are amazing, given their struggles," said Jim Miller, of BAE Systems. "They stuck to it and did a really good job. It was an awesome experience."
One team member, graduating this year, said he plans to go back to Campbell High School and mentor a Botball team. Another said he wants to go to college.