Sacred Heart, Southland VEX Robotics teams set target for state competition

Published 7:02 am Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Cranking out wins, the Sacred Heart Catholic Schools’ and Southland Elementary School’s VEX Robotics teams are gearing up for state.

Sandy and Jeremy Johnson, co-coaches of the VEX Robotics teams at Sacred Heart Catholic Schools, now have two teams heading to state after winning five out of seven awards at a local competition. Seventeen students are in the robotics program (nine on one team, and eight on another). Southland Elementary’s VEX Robotics team also secured a state bid and will be competing.

“They are very excited,” Sandy Johnson said over the phone on Monday afternoon. “They are amazing and have natural talent and work well together.”

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VEX robotics had seen a surge in popularity for STEM education and just took off at Sacred Heart last year. During their first year of the program, Sacred Heart Catholic Schools middle school students won the Minnesota State of Excellence Award and won a bid for the World Competition, where they ranked 61st internationally.

“Last year, kids were saying ‘what if we win at states, and then worlds?’” Johnson recalled. “I remembered telling them that there was no way we were winning at states, and that ‘let’s just do our best,’ but we did so well at the first tournament. We got excited and went to state, and ended up doing so well and went to worlds. …I learned never to underestimate these kids.”

Students at Sacred Heart begin their STEM education early. Classes are available for all students beginning in kindergarten and go through sixth grade, attributing much of the success to Project Lead the Way. By the time students are competing, Johnson said that many of the team members become self-reliant on solving problems that arise with their robots.

For now, the Sacred Heart team will be focused on improving their times for the Jan. 19 competition in Austin and then gearing up for state on Feb. 2 in St. Cloud. However, Johnson expressed that she was excited and enthusiastic about how the schools’ teams from Adams will do facing against challengers from all over Minnesota.

“They have natural talent and work well together,” she said. “They are so creative and think outside of the box. …they overcame a lot of challenges. They do such amazing things with technology.”