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STURTEVANT — Members of the REAL School robotics team have a passion for using science and math to create, and plan to put their skills to the test in the FIRST Robotics competition this spring.

First Robotics competitors are given six weeks — beginning Jan. 5 — to design and build a robot made to complete specific tasks. This year’s theme is “deep space” and robots are tasked with launching a ball to land on a platform that is also placed by the robot.

To create the robot designs, REAL Robotics team members draw on skills learned in their classes at the iMet Center through the REAL School’s partnership with Gateway Technical College. Many of the 20 robotics-team members have learned computer-aided design through their classes at the iMet. CAD allows the students to create a computer version of their robot prior to physically building it.

“We’re able to design it in a computer, so it saves us time, material and overall a lot of heartache,” said REAL School senior and team captain Casey Ernst.

This allows students to determine problems before the building process begins.

“I really like being in the Gateway courses because I can use what I learn there here, to apply it in real life,” said senior team member Madisen Johnson.

The competition

This will be REAL Robotics’ second year in the FIRST Robitics competition, and the team members have learned a few things since last year.

One of the most important lessons for the students is that building a robot is expensive. Although the REAL School team won the Rookie Inspiration award last year, the group didn’t do as well in the competition as it would have liked because it didn’t have enough money to create its preferred design.

“In the beginning of the year, I don’t think we understood how much money we actually needed,” said Nicole Recupero, a junior team member, “so then when we started building the robot we were kind of scrambling for money.”

So far this year, the students have raised about $20,000, but need about $10,000 to fund trips to two regional competitions in March. The team only attended one regional competition last year but wants to do one more this year for the additional experience.

The group started fundraising earlier this school year but is still reaching out to companies and small businesses for sponsorship.


The team’s goal is to finish the robot in four weeks so members have additional time for programming and practice. During the design-and-build process, the team works on the robot six days a week, for 3 hours on school days and longer on the weekends.

Senior team member Madyson Chao said the time commitment was one of the most challenging parts of the competition.

“Overall, I think it’s pretty challenging, but I think the challenge helps us grow and gain more knowledge,” Johnson said. “We all have lots of fun doing it. It’s one of our favorite things.”

REAL Robotics is set to compete with about 50 teams at each regional, one in North Dakota and the other in Milwaukee, both in March.

Recupero said the team’s goal is to make it to nationals this year.

Johnson said beyond that, she wants to see the team perform better than it did last year and to continue learning and to have fun, as well as communicate with other people who have similar passions.

Those looking to sponsor the team can contact Lindsey Schmidt at Schmidt is the team’s head mentor and assistant principal at the REAL School.

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Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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