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Jason Wetter and Maura Toney worked after school on their team’s robot at Sacred Heart School in Valley Park on March 29. At the FIRST World Festival in Houston April 17-20, the Albots finished 5th in the United States in their age group and 18th internationally in their age group.
Jason Wetter and Maura Toney worked after school on their team’s robot at Sacred Heart School in Valley Park on March 29. At the FIRST World Festival in Houston April 17-20, the Albots finished 5th in the United States in their age group and 18th internationally in their age group.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Research, critical thinking skills and teamwork are major components of robotics team's success at Sacred Heart in Valley Park

Sacred Heart Valley Park students finished fifth in the United States and 18th internationally at FIRST World Festival in Houston April 17-20

Updated April 24 to reflect the Albots Robotics Team's finish at the FIRST World Festival in Houston April 17-20 (Fifth in the United States in their age group and 18th internationally in their age group).


Maura Toney placed the LEGO Mindstorm robot at the edge of the table and calibrated it before setting it off on its mission. The robot sputtered down the length of the table, but slightly got off track. If Maura was frustrated, she certainly didn’t let it show.

Problem-solving and teamwork are key components of the Albots Robotics Team at Sacred Heart School in Valley Park. And those skills have earned them the honor of being one of the top First LEGO League teams in Missouri.

“There have been nights when I’ve been so frustrated,” said the eighth-grader. “But you can’t give up or you’ll never get there.”

The Albots Robotics Team at Sacred Heart School in Valley Park made this robot which earned them a trip to Houston.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
The successes of Albots — named after St. Albert the Great, a scientist — have earned the team its second trip to the FIRST World Festival, which were held April 17-20 in Houston, Texas. They competed against more than 100 robotics teams in their age group from all over the world. The team’s robot placed fifth in the United States and 18th internationally. 

The Albots qualified for the competition after winning the the first-place Champion’s Award in February at the FIRST LEGO League Eastern Missouri Championship.

The Albots competed in the FIRST World Festival in 2017 in St. Louis, where they placed eighth among U.S. teams, and ranked 27th among schools worldwide. Last year, the team participated at the FIRST LEGO League Razorback Invitational at the University of Arkansas, where they received third place in the Overall Project category.

The team, which this year includes one fourth-grader, two sixth-graders, one seventh-grader and five eighth-graders, has been working the entire school year on developing strategies, leading up to the state and now world competition. Their work goes above and beyond their other school commitments, as robotics is an extracurricular activity. Students meet twice a week after school, but they have been meeting more frequently in the weeks leading up to the world competition.

The team includes Eleanor Hilton, Adam Garcia, Rory Luina, Dominic Novotny, Maura Toney, Summer Fugate, Audrey Hilton, Jason Wetter and Eric Pudlo. They are led by fifth-grade teacher/moderator Fran Hanson, and parent/grandparent volunteer coaches Beth and John Hilton and Art Woodward.

Students will be judged on three major components: the robot’s design and how it competes in a two-and-a-half-minute game in which it must complete certain missions; a project in which they solve a real-world problem using robotics; and core values, which includes a surprise team-building activity at the competition. Being judged on those components shows the fullness of how teams should be working together, said eighth-grader Audrey Hilton.

It’s an FLL trifecta: “They all have an equal part.”

For their real-world project, the Albots wanted to find a way to help astronauts stay connected to their families while in space. They developed a “Hug-A-Bot,” a prototype of a telepresence robot, which essentially provides a person with a virtual presence. “Our thought was the astronauts are missing events at home since they’re in space,” Audrey said. “This can lead to depression and low levels of oxytocin, and distractions from their important jobs in space.”

While designed as a competition, the students’ work is also teaching them invaluable real-world skills, such as learning how to research, developing critical-thinking skills and working together as a team. “It really helps with people skills, working with people that you may not know well or see every day,” said eighth-grader Summer Fugate.

In the meantime, older students also are training the next generation of FIRST LEGO League competitors. Maura Toney, Audrey Hilton and Summer Fugate started two FIRST LEGO League Jr. teams at Sacred Heart, which generally is for kids ages 6-10. Those students just participated in their first competition.

Dominic Novotny had been watching his older sister, who joined the Albots when the team formed six years ago. “When she graduated, she said it was a really good experience for her, so it got me interested in looking at it,” said the seventh-grader.

Fourth-grader Eleanor Hilton is by far the youngest member of the Albots, but she’s had a leg up on the competition, watching her two older sisters, Audrey, and Clare, who is now a member of the robotics team at Cor Jesu Academy. “It looked interesting,” she simply said.

Fifth-grade teacher Fran Hanson moderates the team along with parent/grandparent volunteer coaches Beth and John Hilton and Art Woodward. Hanson admitted she wasn’t sure what she got herself into when she volunteered, but she certainly enjoys seeing how the students work together.

“I wish my kids had been involved in this” when they were younger, Hanson said. “The skills that they learn — having to stand up in front of judges and not know what’s going to be thrown at them. Any of them can be asked about any part of the project. It’s a huge time commitment — they stay busy.”


St. Albert the Great

St. Albert the Great was a 13th-century German Dominican, Doctor of the Church and scholar.

He was the eldest son of a powerful and wealthy German lord of military rank and educated in the liberal arts. Despite fierce family opposition, he entered the Dominican novitiate.

His interests prompted him to write a compendium of all knowledge, including natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics. His explanation of learning took 20 years to complete.

He achieved his goal while serving as an educator at Paris and Cologne, as Dominican provincial, and even as bishop of Regensburg for a short time. He defended the mendicant orders and preached the Crusade in Germany and Bohemia.

St. Albert the Great is the patron of scientists and philosophers.

Source: Franciscan Media

>> Champs

On the high school level, Ursuline Academy’s robotics team, Bearbotics, won first place at the First Robotics Competition — St. Louis Regional last month at Chaifetz Arena. Ten students from Ursuline Academy worked for months to design the competition robot, named by the students as Buzz. Together with their alliances, the students showed examples of teamwork, spirit and hard work. The team now moves on to the World Festival in Houston.

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