Students take robotics skills to Texas: ‘I am so proud of them’

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


Students on the middle school robotics team at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf placed 12th out of 24 teams at a robotics competition last week.

The Texas School for the Deaf hosted the Vex IQ Robotics Competition. Vex offers a robotics platform allowing students to build their own snap robots.

Students Micah Hubbard, 14, an eighth grader; Hieu Le, 14, a seventh grader; and Sharnese Johnson, 12, a seventh grader, flew to the Lone Star State to participate in the event on Feb. 8.

“I am so proud of them being such a small school, we are not able to do as much as bigger schools. Being able to send them makes me feel proud,” said Michele Handley, director at ENCSD.

The students’ trip was fully funded by a grant from Vex.

The competition was the first of its kind for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Students had to build, program and operate robots in a platform where the challenge was to pick up balls and move them into blocks.

Prior to the competition, the ENCSD students had to build an exact version of the playing field to practice on.

Handley said this is the first year that a robotics class has been available for middle school students. The robotics component is incorporated in the students’ STEAM class, taught by science teacher Michaela Williams. High school students completed a similar robotics class last year in a science, technology, engineering, art and math class.

“It’s something new and different, and they enjoy it,” Handley said.

“At first the students were interested, and they wanted to join,” said Melissa Hargrove, an ENCSD education development assistant. “We had these three that volunteered and wanted to learn. Over the course of the year, they have really learned a lot. They learned how to build the robots themselves, how to do the things that it is supposed to do. Then when they went to Texas, they really learned a lot more there about the coding, the programming and what is the best strategy for the robotics design.”

Two students, Sharnese and Micah, had never been on a plane before, making the trip interesting.

“It was good. I was not scared, but it was fun,” Sharnese said, through sign language and an interpreter. “I was normal.”

Sharnese said she learned a lot playing with the other teams at the competition.

“We had programming difficulties,” Sharnese said.

“I stressed a little bit,” Micah said.

Hargrove said the competition included a series of one-minute rounds. There were two drivers with 30 seconds for each driver. Hieu and Micah were the drivers.

Faith Tabron, another ENCSD educational development assistant who went, said it was tough for the teachers to stand there and not help or interfere with the students.

“I had to watch from afar. I couldn’t come close,” Tabron said.

“It was hard watching them, but it was a lot of fun,” Sharnese said.

Competitions were in skills, in which the team made 11th out of 24 teams, then qualifications. The team was 18th of 24, and for the finals, the group was 12th of 24.

Hieu said the hardest part was when the electronics wouldn’t work.

Hieu said he wants to be an engineer when he grows up.

“I’m good at it. I know how to do engineering stuff. I want to build robots. It is just interesting,” Hieu said.