Richmond Middle School Sends Team to National Robotics Test

  • Richmond Middle School students, from left, Lara Witwick, Sam Sacerdote, Cameron Bonner, Lachlan McCann, Sora Shirai, Lauren Hall and Sarah Hall are members of the school's Team Roadkilz robotics team. They earned the right to compete in the national FIRST Robitic competition after finishing second in the New Hampshire contest.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 13, 2017

Several of them ski cross country, and one races down alpine slopes.

Still another travels to Boston most Saturdays to study Japanese and to take violin lessons at the New England Conservatory.

So don’t go profiling the seven members of the Team Roadkilz robotics squad at Hanover’s Richmond Middle School as a herd of one-trick ponies, let alone geeks.

“Some people think it’s a bunch of nerdy math people, getting together, running robots,” eighth-grader and Roadkilz captain Lara Witwick said last week, during a phone conference call with several team members and a coach. “There’s a lot more to it.”

The members of Roadkilz demonstrated how much more in December, earning a trip to next month’s FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) Lego League world festival in St. Louis by placing second overall at the New Hampshire championships to a team from Nashua and edging out the third-place squad from Epsom.

To qualify for the world festival — the first to which a Richmond School team has advanced — Team Roadkilz not only pitted the Lego robot they designed against other Granite Staters on a table-top playing field, but assembled a research project on the theme of “Animal Allies” and demonstrated to judges the league’s “core values” of teamwork, friendly competition, gracious professionalism and close attention to the guidance of coaches and mentors.

The team also earned a Global Innovation Award for their project exploring technological approaches to preventing collisions between wildlife and vehicles.

“Being on the team doesn’t mean all of us are stars in math and science,” sixth-grader Lachlan McCann said. “I’m better at English than anything. That really helped when I was writing the Global Innovation presentation. … I found I was doing quite a lot.”

During preparations for the state meet, members of Roadkilz at first considered developing a smartphone app using GPS to alert drivers to the presence of deer and moose near points on the highway that intersect with wildlife corridors. In the process, they consulted with a variety of engineers, including some at the TomTom GPS plant in Lebanon, and ultimately decided that it might be more practical to find ways to equip cars with devices that would warn animals of their approach.

“There’s a sense of doing things that take them outside of the elements they’re used to,” said team co-coach Randy Witwick, founder of the Hanover-based STEM Robotix school. “They’re pushing some boundaries.”

Late in the state competition, some members of Team Roadkilz were more optimistic than others that the Richmond School squad would push past the boundaries of New Hampshire.

“I had a feeling in the back of my head,” said Lara Witwick, “that we would get one of those big trophies.”

Sixth-grader Sora Shirai, the musician of the group, wasn’t so sure.

“A lot of us were thinking we would go home with no prizes,” Shirai said. “There was a lot of suspense. It was both exciting and scary. We felt like this would be the last day for us, so we did our best.”

In addition to Lara Witwick, Lachlan McCann and Sora Shirai, Team Roadkilz members going to St. Louis will be Sam Sacerdote, Cameron Bonner, sisters Lauren Hall and Sarah Hall.

Adina Desaulniers, the Richmond School’s coordinator of robotics, said that the school has had a FIRST Lego League program for about nine years, typically forming between three and five teams out of a collection of 35 to 50 students.

“This is the farthest any RMS team has gone,” said Lara Witwick, who is completing her fifth year in the program. “We usually get teams to states, but not beyond. This is a pretty big step for our school.”

To raise money for travel expenses to the FIRST Lego League world festival in St. Louis, Team Roadkilz will hold bake sales from 7 to 9 Friday night during Richmond Middle School’s spring dance, and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Co-op Food Store in Hanover.

All the Valley’s a Stage

The Mascoma Players will stage an adaptation of the musical Peter Pan on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon, at Mascoma Valley Regional High School’s new Mascoma Community Auditorium.

Gaige Streeter plays the lead, fellow senior Sasha Bakker portrays Wendy and junior Max Dacier plays Captain Hook in the production, scheduled to start at 7 on Friday and Saturday nights and at 2 on Sunday afternoon. David Wilson is directing the play, while Allyson Weiner-Sawyer is overseeing choreography and Ellen Wilbur is directing the orchestra.

For advance tickets ($7 to $10), call 866-967-8167. Organizers of the play recommend calling ahead in case of performances selling out.

In a concert benefiting the music department at Mascoma Valley Regional High School, the Mascoma Valley Guitar Orchestra and the Chester, Vt.-based, country-rock-oriented DV8 Band perform at the Meadow Sports Bar & Restaurant in Canaan on Sunday night. The festivities run from 5:30 to 8:30.

The admission of $10 includes a chance to win dinner for two at the Meadow restaurant. Mountain Meadows will donate 15 percent of the night’s food sales to the music program.

For more information about the music program, call Jim Shibles at 603-632-9307.

Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Bradford Elementary School will perform their annual musical, Adventures of a Comic Book Artist, in the school auditorium on March 24 and 25.

As part of the school’s project-based learning program, students worked on set design, lights, sound, marketing, props and costuming as well as acting and singing.

The performances are scheduled for March 24 at 6 and March 25 at 2. To learn more, visit beschool.org.

Collegiate Recognition

Christian Johansen, of Etna,  addressed to his classmates during Middlebury College’s recent “Feb Celebration” for students earning bachelor’s degrees midway through the traditional academic year.

Johansen, a 2012 graduate of Hanover High School, was among the Middlebury students in the “class of 2016.5” who pursued work, travel and other adventures between their high school commencements and the start of their undergraduate careers the following February.

After the Feb Celebration, the class skied, snowboarded and snowshoed down the slope of the Middlebury Snow Bowl in nearby Hancock. At the formal commencement on March 1, Johansen received a bachelor’s degree in geography and environmental studies.

Keene State College named Laurel Mendelsohn, of Hanover, to its dean’s list, for her academic performance during the fall 2016 semester. The 2016 graduate of The Sharon Academy is majoring in vocal performance.

Thetford resident Thaddeus Buttrey was among 35 members of Kalamazoo College’s class of 2017 to receive the Michigan school’s Senior Leadership Award. He is a 2013 graduate of Thetford Academy.

The New England Small College Athletic Conference recently named seven Upper Valley students to its All-Academic Team for the winter semester.

Making the grade in the classroom as well as varsity sports, by hometown, were:

Hanover — Katie Aman, Middlebury College, sophomore

Norwich — Gordon Bensen, Bowdoin College, junior; Katie Fenton, Colby College, sophomore

Lyme — Caroline Howell, Trinity College, junior; Kalin McGowan, Trinity College, senior

South Woodstock — Jordan Fields, Wesleyan College, senior

West Hartford — Christopher McKenna, Middlebury College, senior.

Act 46 Forums

The Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union will host forums at three union schools over the coming weeks, on how Act 46, the law governing consolidation of school districts in Vermont, might affect schools in the existing supervisory union.

With each starting at 6 p.m., forums are scheduled for March 23 at Albert Bridge School in West Windsor, March 28 at Hartland Elementary School and April 3 at the Windsor Schools.

For more information, call 802-674-2144.

Scholarship Shape

The charitable foundation of the former Cone Automatic Machine Co., is inviting children and grandchildren of former employees of the Windsor-based manufacturer to apply for post-secondary scholarships for the 2017-2018 academic year.

May 9 is the deadline to submit applications, which are available, along with eligibility requirements and other information, by writing to Cone Automatic Machine Company Charitable Foundation, Post Office Box 65, Claremont, N.H. 03743. Awards will be announced in June.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Education-related news and announcements also can be sent to schoolnotes@vnews.com.