Michael Wright knew going in that he was facing a huge time commitment in launching the robotics program at Smith-Cotton High School.
“We’re here every night, Monday through Thursday, from after school until 10 p.m. — lately until 11 or 12,” he said.
That doesn’t include last week’s marathon session, which stretched from 8 a.m. Saturday to 4:30 a.m. Sunday.
But the time is valuable, he contends, because his students are putting lessons into action and gaining valuable skills they will take to their next level of education and into the work force.
Wright, an industrial technology teacher and creator of Team SCREAM — Smith-Cotton Robotics, Engineering and Mathematics — on Tuesday was honored by the Sedalia Community Educators Association as the district’s outstanding educator of the year.
The team is preparing for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition regional March 14-16 in Kansas City. More than 50 teams will be participating, and Team SCREAM is making its debut in that competition after having success in similar contests.
“There is so much time and effort that goes into this thing,” Wright said. “It is such a big project, and you only have six weeks to do it. We have a lot of kids who are really dedicated to making it work and be successful. They are putting all the time in, and we are just trying to be here to facilitate, to lead them and try to ask them the right questions to look at things a different way.”
If the team does well, it could advance to the world championships, which this year are being held in St. Louis. There is a “rookie of the year” recognition, and Wright said the team is focused on bringing that home.
Senior Bailey Smith, the lone female on the team, said the robotics team has encouraged students to get more interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.
“We incorporate what we learn in the classroom so we can put our hands on it,” she said. “This is perfect for kids who are getting engineering degrees, because engineering is all about teamwork and working with people.”
Wright said robotics competitions bring together “all the math, all the engineering, all the science, technology, teamwork, business plans, marketing — basically we’re running a business here that competes. That gives them hands-on experience working with a budget, working with a deadline that is impossible to meet, (dealing with) limited resources, working with people who you may have conflicts with, going and competing and trying to come together and succeed at a goal. It really does provide a real-world situation for them that they would see in industry.”
Adding to that real-life experience are mentors from local industries who volunteer their expertise and guidance. Local companies including Gardner-Denver, Waterloo, W&M Welding, Bothwell Regional Health Center, Parkhurst Manufacturing, Thompson Hills Development Corp., W-K Chevrolet, Ditzfeld Transfer and others have provided support for the robotics program.
“It’s wonderful here in Sedalia, we have a wealth of industry here in town,” Wright said. “Everybody I have talked to has been willing to help out. No one has said no. ... All the support we’ve been getting has just been phenomenal.”
One of those mentors, Sedalia Police Lt. Bill Chapman, said Wright is building a positive reputation with local industries.
“He has done outstanding stuff for these kids. He has built such a great rapport, these kids would do anything for him. That speaks volumes,” Chapman said.
Keegan Kendrick, a senior, likes that the mentors “don’t take over the project. ... They walk us through stuff, but it’s still our robot.”
Kendrick also praised Wright for creating a fun, relaxed educational atmosphere and for his “100 percent commitment” to the team and its members.
“When he gets excited, we get excited. It kind of fuels us,” Kendrick said.
The team and its supporters have evolved into their own extended family. For the six weeks of “build” time, each night at 6 p.m. parents will bring in dinner and the team stops working to eat together. Wright’s wife, Jenna, and children Samuel, 5, and Madelyn, 1, are typically right there with him.
“It’s a big sacrifice for our family to be up here this much,” he said. “But we feel it is worth it and valuable to the kids. ...”
Smith said Wright’s greatest attributes are the support, guidance and consistent input he provides his students.
“He has created a whole lot of opportunities that we wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t come to this school,” she said.