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Robotics: The future of the district?

Students from Silver Bay's Flaming Anchors showed their robotic skills in William Kelley's gymnasium this winter. They will take on regional competitors April 1-3 at the University of Minnesota's Mariucci Arena. Submitted photo

The Flaming Anchors robotics team, based out of William Kelley High School in Silver Bay, will take on regional competitors next week at the University of Minnesota's Mariucci Arena with the chance of competing at an international event.

There are more than 60 teams in the region and only four teams advance.

"There are numerous regionals around the world, all competing to have a chance to go to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta," said Chris Belanger, head coach and shop teacher at Kelley.

The team consists of 21 students in grades 9-12.

"They were required to build a robot that plays a type of soccer game [and] the field is divided into three sections by bumps and tunnels," Belanger said. "The more goals scored the more points. ... There is a 15 second autonomous period where there is no human interaction with the robot at all, after that period there is a two-minute game where they will be controlled by humans. The robot must meet strict weight limits and parameter limits as well."

Students not only learn about robotics but how working together reaches goals.

"It's a really good experience and (could help) with careers in the future," said Mark Harris, a ninth-grader. He said he is interested in the field of welding.

Ninth-grader Kyle Blood said the competition "will be a different kind of nervous" than he's used to from performing on the basketball court.

To be successful at regions, the team is focused on two things. "I think we need to be organized and not panic," said Brock LeBlanc, also a ninth-grader.

Making the team possible were donations from Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association, a $2,000 sponsor of the team. It has also given $5,000 to support an advanced welding program in Lake Superior School District, and another $227 to purchase measuring tools for a new hydraulics program. They gave $2,400 to Cook County High School for its robotics program.

The purpose of AMFA, formed in 1997, is to make industries like manufacturing and fabricating stronger in the region. More than 80 companies are involved in the group. A trust was also created in 2001 to address education and workforce issues in the region.

The trust supports fund-raising initiatives throughout the year and also awards small grants to regional machine technology programs on a quarterly basis.

"I realized if we didn't get kids exposed to various tech trades, we wouldn't have a work force," said Rich Sill, who sits on AMFA's educational trust committee.

"AMFA is a huge supporter of the industrial tech program," said Joe Nicklay, the principal in Silver Bay. "They communicate incredibly well with the school."

Another program the school district utilizes is the North Shore Trade and Tech Project, which Sill coordinates. Its purpose is to enhance and expand vocational programming opportunities for adults and youth in the area, he said.

"We were seeing kids fall between the cracks," Sill said.

One example of the work the project has is having students from Kelley go to Cook County to learn about timber framing at North House Folk School. "It's a great way to teach math," Sill said. "Contractors tell me they can't find kids with skills."

Sill has also been working with the Lake Superior Carl Perkins Vocational Consortium. It gave $22,000 for the district's hydraulics/pneumatics program that will be at the two Lake County high schools.

The district has received $88,000 from the Applied Learning Institute for equipment for that program.

Perkins also gave an $8,000 grant for an embroidery machine in Silver Bay.

It will be used for projects within the district and is not meant to be a competition to other businesses in the area.