Little Neck’s ‘RoboPandas’ take first place prize in citywide robotics tournament

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Photos by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

After competing against over 60 of the best teams from the five boroughs, a team of bright Little Neck kids brought home a top prize.

On March 11, P.S. 94’s RoboPandas competed at the New York City First Lego League Robotics Championship and took home the first place “Teamwork Award,” which recognizes a group “that is able to accomplish more together than they could as individuals through shared goals, strong communication, effective problem solving and excellent time management,” according to the league website.

Team members Kellen Yu, Andre Wang, Lily Lu, Ava Jack, Anthony Arias, Silvia Jun, Nolan Reinhardt and Eric Leem worked for months in preparation. At the championship, the group of fifth-grade students vied for a top prize against teams who were one, two and even three years older.

The team was able to secure the Teamwork Award by best adopting the league’s core values, which include respect, inclusion and gracious professionalism.

“We managed to get all ‘exemplary’ [scores] on our core values,” Eric Leem told QNS. “Research and robotics were great too … But we’re still proud of what we got. It didn’t matter about us winning; it just mattered what we did and the experience.”

“Winning an award — never mind first place — out of 64 teams was a bit surprising; but nonetheless, it was very exciting,” Lily Lu added.

Since the beginning of the school year, students worked together on a research project and robot design, all while learning to work together as a team. Team members found that, as their team found success, they also saw their individual grades improve.

“This has really helped me with my science and my imagination,” Silvia Jun said. “During the project, we had to think of all sorts of unique ideas. And I think if I were to every become a scientist — which I have a high chance of doing — these skills would be very important and useful to me.”

Team member Ava Jack said the experience has opened her up to making new friends.

“When I was in third grade, I wasn’t mostly interested in making friends; I was mostly interested in doing school work,” she said. “But then, when I got into Lego League, I started seeing myself improve. When I first got here, I was more likely on the side instead of in the conversation. But as I began to grow, I began to make more friends along the way.”

The students have come a long way since the beginning of the school year, coach and teacher Ellie Glus said.

“Recently, one of them said to me, ‘I want to change the world,'” she said. “I almost cried.”

Following their big win, Councilman Paul Vallone presented each team member with a City Council citation and proclamation.

The team earned their “golden ticket” to advance to the citywide championship at a qualifier on Feb. 3. Students spoke with QNS about their research project and robot design prior to the competition.

The RoboPandas and coach, Ellie Glus
The RoboPandas and coach, Ellie Glus