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By Billy Rudolph 

Oppe third-grader Yaritzy Lopez and fourth-grader Valeria Alfaro barely knew what robotics was and never even heard of robotics teams or tournaments when the school year began. Next month the duo will be competing in the VEX Robotics World Championships.

“It sounded fun and then when I started I realized it was kinda hard but I learned a lot,” recalls Yaritzy, who signed up for the team as part of the Texas ACE after school program at her school.

“The robotics program was reintroduced this year and opened to all students. We worked really hard to provide an environment of support specifically focused towards the VEX program.  The excitement built at every turn, and I am very excited for all the kids’ accomplishments,” says Holly Neumann, who teaches third grade and stays past the final bell to facilitate the program alongside Texas ACE Site Coordinator Wes Holland. 

“This tremendous success is the result of all the students at Oppe on team 77554,” comments Holland. “Without every team member pulling their weight and contributing we aren’t successful.” 

This year the students are tasked with building a robot that can stack objects quickly and accurately into designated spaces in a 60-second timeframe. One of the reasons the program has taken off is because of student volunteers from Ball High, like senior Alejandro Castro, who comes over to Oppe almost everyday after school.

“He really helped but didn’t do anything for us, we learned how to do it all ourselves,” says Veleria, whose favorite part is driving the robot during competition. “I’m always nervous and scared when I’m competing, but it’s so exciting and I’m confident.”

“Building the robot is my favorite,” exclaims Yaritzy. “It’s awesome and way more fun than regular school. It does have a lot of math, but that’s what I like about it.”

Neumann adds, “We are lucky to be part of a school that has very involved teachers and parents. Combine that with the support we get from Ball High and the CTE program and it truly takes a village to make this work.” 

The Worlds Competition will take place virtually this year May 23-26. Good luck to Yaritzy and Valeria!

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