My teams now have won in that category more than once the big award and each time they have struggled with it - not fully realizing at first that it was a super high honor for the adults to recognize their character as individuals and together as a team - they may have been wanting to be recognized in the project or robot area instead. The older ones who are all starting to turn 18 have finally 'gotten it' and realize how important it is and have internalized the lessons. It has driven their decisions in the last two years as a team and they are shocked to find out that they have done even better when they 'gave up' on parts of the competition and what might be the overall group-think by teams on how to be highly competitive for awards and did 'what is right' instead.
It is something I hammer on - doing what is right and trying to be humble. It is especially hard to teach these lessons to my younger team who are mostly second children and naturally more hard-scrabble. In fact, most are 'alpha dogs' who need to broadcast their success to not be upstaged by their talented older siblings. So I have worked extra hard on them. One year I had a section of their notebook dedicated to the word of the season. Grit was year 1. Humility was year 2. I would routinely test the kids about the words and meanings and examples and how someone on the team had shown it, so it was hilarious when at one point I did so in front of another parent and their child proudly stated that our team was all about 'Grit and Humiliation!'. Ugh. It was back to the drawing board.
|Working mid-season at the Center with Robot Love and|
We have come to know the kids pretty well, some even better as we have done joint activities to help others together. That is a big thing at this center - and one reason we keep coming back - their mission with the kids includes giving back as well. The teens work in the municipal parks in the summer to teach kids STEM and there is an orphanage nearby that they help out at all the time. It is not the narrative that we are fed from TV - people looking for handouts. It is so, so far from that fake narrative on the ground and why all our robot parents are behind me 100% in doing this. All the kids at the center are looking for is a shot and they are hungry for learning, willing to share and proud as well. Many of the kids are at charter schools and travel difficult ways to get an education, some have earned spots at a prestigious exam school - but they are limited in what they can do afterwards because of issues with the economics of college. They cluster at the center to do their homework and have the usual and more dramatic struggles with the work and grit and focus that is challenged by the environment.
It has been extremely eye opening for all our kids to work with these children or alongside them. If you spend any time, you notice things. You notice difficulties with grit because someone isn't there to force them back in the door when something is really fustrating and parents who don't understand and have more pressing needs to get done who have to pull them away to do things like take care of an infant sister so they can go to work. Frazzled and exhausted are the words I would use to describe many of the parents when we get a chance to meet them, not bad people. And when they have the time, they stand there and beam at their child trying to work a robot just as the rest of us do.
One young lady is here by herself living with cousins and her aunt. About to graduate from high school, she confided in me at a dinner I took her and her other STEM club girls to, about how she wants to study business so she can start her own and bring her mother and sister to the USA. An elegant, tall, Haitian girl with just lovely manners and an amazing smile and laugh - she is a natural for business. The team cried and cried this fall when we learned that her mother died in the hurricane that struck the country and her sister was missing and she was just devastated. They could relate as one of the children on the Brainstormers lost his mother unexpectedly just two months before and it hit us all so hard, the team captain and I had to get him to let him know - it was devastating and the whole team dropped everything to be with him for days - we were already close and now so much more so. I was really proud at how they reached out to her, bound by their common experience.
Going there is a far cry from our rich suburban life where sometimes our problems aren't so large. Yet, they all share a love of basketball and that is the most common request I get when we are there - can we play b-ball together??!! So they do (in my opinion, we get creamed every time!).
So we were terribly excited this fall when the center decided to take the plunge and form a First Lego League team of their own with our support. We had already donated the T-shirts and robot materials and spent several days there teaching. I helped the coach on the phone weekly with encouragement - knowing what they needed to know every week from my years of experience. The kids would share videos and text messages and sometimes we found a day we could get in there to help and mentor. Both the older and younger team did this.
|Robot Love at competition (blue shirts) and that guy in the|
black and white stripes - Brainstormers team captain
|Text messages going back and forth|
between the two teams
We didn't do a public poster about this work, as would be standard at the competition. We all decided that we didn't feel right about that. I had the kids do a small one themselves, entirely in their own words with no suggested edits by me and only to be shown to the judges to discuss what they had learned working with the kids in Boston. We debated quite a bit about this, should we or should we not. It is about respect for the community - and that was a huge lesson they had learned over the last 18-months. Things like shaking hands, name tags, learning how to pronounce someones name. As we rolled up the first time I took Robot Revolution to teach vs. demonstrate, I gave them the following advice: treat these kids like they were a new member of our team. Teach them what they need to know and think about how you would treat each other.
So it was with much trepidation that I let the kids talk about this with the judges. And as much as I was uncomfortable with the idea of taking credit, it was the right thing in the end. As yes, they got a huge award, but even better was the email that came a few days later. Seems that the head of the FLL program for the state had filled in as a judge that day. And guess what they saw and heard about - knowing about the little team in Boston that had registered that year. She knew us already from past performance and wanted to let us know about a big grant to be given out to promote FIRST in disadvantaged and underrepresented communities and that she would like to talk to us about writing a proposal for that grant.
The grant is to not only expand what we have been doing but to figure out the 'secret sauce' - a template for expansion in many centers and then sharing that with FIRST. This grant process has consumed us for two months and the coach and director of the center and I have gotten all the kids involved as well. The teens have been formulating and debating what the 'program' should be at the center and attending some of the proposal meetings or reviewing the notes after each one. The day I left on vacation - we learned that we made the first cut and now needed to write the big, full proposal this month.
|The Robot Love team, their cheering posters and a|
wonderful thank you poster (with their refs) that hangs
in our work room right now.
I will write again on how we will do it later - we are very excited and both teams are chomping at the bit for this summer when we start working on our contribution that doesn't require the grant to do. We will be filming a video series with the center to show other urban environments how to run a team. They have been story-boarding it and making video clips already from footage we have of seasons past. The video series will be one of the main resources for the new groups we are bringing in next fall. If it works out well, we will edit them based on that experience and then release it as a resource for all groups who want to form teams in the future. And there is a twist that the kids are really excited about - more about it later - but here is the official logo the kids made for their inner-city program. Can't wait to see it on dozens of T-shirts!