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Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy’s (NWACA) Spartan Robotics program is in its fourth year and is now gearing up to expand as a result of two recent grants totaling $2,000 awarded to the varsity and junior varsity teams. The purpose of the Arkansas First Tech Challenge Robotics Rookie Grant program, set up by Arkansas FIRSTⓇ, is to help new teams become organized and not worry about the financial burden of purchasing robotic kits and paying tournament fees. According to its website, “Arkansas FIRST is a volunteer-based non-profit organization founded to ensure every Arkansas student has access to the exciting world of competitive robotics.”

NWACA students Ethan Dover and Nathan Thomas discuss their concept. (from left to right)

Staff Sponsor of the Spartan Robotics teams and sixth-grade teacher Rick Koretoff says, “This allows more time for the students to focus on developing their concepts and building the actual robots, rather than fundraising.” Koretoff goes on to explain that robotics can become costly, with competition registration fees at about $275, plus additional fees for each qualifying event. Because NWACA has two brand new teams, there would be about $550 worth of up-front costs.

“This grant covered those fees, but FIRST went even further and provided each new team with a robotics kit, which normally costs around $600,” says Koretoff. “The kit comes with a cell phone and remote that controls the robot, as well as important components such as wires and motors that make up the structure of the robot.”

Robert Scarbrough, Andrea Morales, and Easton Bryan begin working on their robot. (from left to right)

With the addition of the two rookie teams, NWACA now has three teams consisting of a JV and varsity made up of sixth- and seventh-graders, as well as the high school team named the Terminators. The JV and varsity Micro-Machines teams are in their first year, while the Terminators are continuing to build upon successes of being the school’s first team in the program.

Last year, a couple of experienced teams, Diva Force and Tech Hogs, took the Terminators under their wings and helped provide supplies and coaching tips to Koretoff. After placing 23rd out of 33 teams, the start-upTerminators were chosen as a  wildcard competitor to assist Diva Force. The teams united to finish third overall with a NWACA sixth-grader driving the robot.

Sydney Hopper, Easton Bryan, Rohit Padmakumar, Dawson Finke, and Paige Conley are hard at work. (from left to right)

Koretoff says, “It’s about more than a robot and playing a game. It’s about working together to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) within the community; learning to be graciously professional and pursuing the field of engineering.”

Koretoff is in his fifth year with ResponsiveEd and is dedicated to growing his students’ love of STEM education. Koretoff says that knowing one of his former students will be pursuing an engineering degree in college reinforces his hard work.

The Spartan Robotics teams are looking forward to taking their three robots to the first competition on November 10, followed by events on December 8 and January 12. Koretoff says, “This is an opportunity for the students to show off their robots, but also present their concepts, design development and coding to judges.”

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