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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
The "Owl BOTS" of P.S. 71 competed in the FIRST Lego League qualifier at Renaissance Middle School on Jan. 13.

A pair of schools from Ridgewood and Glendale put their programming knowledge to the test on Saturday when they competed in the FIRST Lego League qualifier for a chance to move on to the city finals.

The fourth- and fifth-graders from P.S. 71 Forest Elementary and the seventh- and eighth-graders from Sacred Heart Catholic Academy brought their Lego Mindstorms robots to Renaissance Middle School in St. Albans on Jan. 13, where 25 teams from all over Queens gathered to compete.

The theme of this year’s contest was hydrodynamics, and the teams had to program their robots to complete a series of tasks on a tabletop map that depicted real-world water cycle problems. They were also required to complete a research project in which a water problem and a solution were identified and then presented to the judges.

Being one of the youngest teams in the competition, the “Owl BOTS” from P.S. 71 had a less-advanced robot than most, but their spirit was at an all-time high. Throughout the robot games they cheered and chanted for their teammates and were able to put points on the board.

Although the team didn’t place in the top six to move on to the next round, fourth-grade student Orsen Ujka operated the robot and said that winning was not the most important thing.

“Honestly I care more about having fun,” Ujka said. “I tried getting all the points I could, I just like that my friends support me a lot.”

The “Owl BOTS” also took great pride in their research project. They identified poor water quality at their school as the problem after lead testing forced the school to stop using two drinking fountains. The proposed solution was to have water filters installed on the drinking fountains, and the students even reached out to the Department of Education and the Quality Water Group to see if they could turn their project into a reality.

Indiana Soto, principal of P.S. 71, stopped by to see her students in action and said she was exceptionally proud and excited to see them making a difference.

“A lot of times you’ll have advocates, but there isn’t really intention, so where’s the change going to come from?” Soto said. “Our students are change agents with intention, so to me it’s inspiring.”

While some of the students were sad that they didn’t get rewarded for their hard work, their coaches Janna Carbone and Kathleen Remsen were beyond proud of how they performed.

Carbone said that the next step in reaching their goal of bringing clean water to the school is to meet with the Quality Water Group again, who will do simple experiments and lessons with the kids about how the filters work. Beyond that, convincing the DOE to contract the work to the Quality Water Group is the biggest challenge, she said.

“I feel their disappointment, I’ve been there,” Carbone said. “But we’re very proud of their teamwork and accomplishments, they’ve done so much in so little time.”

The middle school students from Sacred Heart, on the other hand, performed very well in the competition. Their robot, complete with several different attachments for completing missions in the game, scored the second-most points in the competition and was given an award for best robot mechanical design.

For their research project, the “FLLASH” (First Lego League At Sacred Heart) came up with an idea for a sink that drains water into the top of a toilet and recycles that water to use for the next flush. They even built a model toilet out of Legos to present their idea.

Rich Mezic, one of the coaches for the Sacred Heart team, said they are one of the only catholic school teams to compete in the competition. He is not a paid teacher at the school, rather he is a National Grid employee who runs the Lego robotics team as a volunteer. He started the team in 2013 when his sons were in grade school, he said.

“They’re in high school now, but I still do it because it’s personally rewarding,” Mezic said in an email. “I wish I would’ve had Legos like this when I was a kid!”

The “FLLASH” will be moving on to the city championship, held on March 11 in the Nat Holman Gym at City College of New York.

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