Fresh Meadows students compete at Queens’ FIRST Lego League STEM Robotics Competition in St. Albans

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Photo courtesy of Peter Xanthus

George J. Ryan Middle School 216 students in Fresh Meadows are looking to bring home the city title at the NYC FIRST Lego League Championships in Manhattan on March 15. 

This year the “Ryan Lions” and “Ryan Pride” teams from M.S. 216’s Robotics Program roared through Queens’ FIRST Lego League STEM Robotics Competition at I.S. 192 in St. Albans on Jan. 25. The two teams finished in first and second place out of 24 competing Queens schools for the Robot Performance portion of the event. It led to an unprecedented first- and third-place finish for both teams from Fresh Meadows. 

Photo courtesy of Peter Xanthus

“I used to run the NYC FIRST organization and I just coach here again like I used to, and I’ve never seen two teams come in first and second place for the robot,” said Peter Xanthus, who has been coaching the robotics team at M.S. 216 for 10 years. “It was a culmination of a lot of hard work and I was very proud.”

Photo courtesy of Peter Xanthus

The research and robotics tournament is sponsored by NYC FIRST Lego League, a platform for children and young people (between the ages of 9 and 14) to gain 21st-century skills while having a lot of fun. FIRST Lego League consists of two parts: In the practical part, the teams build a robot out of Lego Mindstorms which acts autonomously. Together with the robot, the teams cope with tricky missions on a playing field with specific construction models. In the theoretical part, the teams propose an individual research question and develop innovative solutions. 

This year, the teams are researching and experimenting on the topic, “City Shapers.” Some of the most pressing problems include things like building with sustainable materials, creating energy efficient structures, reducing traffic congestion, repairing aging infrastructure, increasing accessibility and inclusivity, and reducing the damage caused by natural disasters.

In preparation for the tournament, the students spent 10 weeks perfecting their robot dedicating their time during lunch break and after-school hours until 7 p.m., according to Xanthus. 

“It was fun. We would stay here, laugh, do the boards and skits,” said seventh-grader Milana Pinkhasov, a Pride team member. “Overall, it was a fun experience yet nerve-wracking because I’ve never experienced a competition before.” 

Eighth-grader and Lions team member Jerry Chen, who designed and programmed the robot, said the experience was “scary yet motivational.” 

“I saw so many people and my team was cheering me on. I did what I did and got the points,” Chen said. 

Seventh-grader and Lions team member Amanda Martini, who was originally the team’s captain, was proud to showcase their creation to the borough, she said. After her sister, an alumni of M.S. 216, participated in the Robotics Competition, Martini knew she wanted to also compete. 

“I’ve been wanting to be a part of the robotics team since I was in fourth grade,” Martini said. “I’ve been to California before and saw the team compete and that’s when I really fell in love with it. I thought it was really cool to have this robot and have it complete an obstacle course.” 

Next, the Lions and the Pride team will bypass the semifinals and meet the 50 best programs across the borough at the NYC Championships on March 15, according to Xanthus. The winners of the championship will compete with other schools from across the country and world. 

Eighth-grader and Pride team member Ryan Mahase, said he is feeling confident moving forward in the competition. 

“It was really challenging but being a part of a team that taught me that together we can accomplish anything because we can always follow our goals,” Mahase said. “We’re going to do a great job because since we got the champions award, we’re really motivated and we’re going to keep trying, and we’re not going to give up.”

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