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‘Sky is the Limit': How Continuation School Students Became LAUSD Robotics Champs

A group of students at a continuation school in the San Fernando Valley is being lauded as real-life underdogs who overcame the odds to represent the LA Unified School District and bring home an award from a global competition.

The robotics team from Robert H. Lewis High School was one of the eight groups chosen for the Judge’s Choice Award at the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship last month. The LAUSD team’s robot was acclaimed for being able to read people’s faces on cones, pick up the corresponding cones to park them at specifically designated spots.

But there’s something that sets the Robert H. Lewis High School team apart from other 190 groups that participated in the global contest: with the Sun Valley school being a continuation school, almost every student in the group once fell behind in schoolwork or attendance while others admittedly had no motivation to dream big before.

“Being part of a continuation school, oftentimes you think there are certain things you can’t do as well as regular high school students who are taking AP classes,” said Emily Alvarez, a 12th grader and a member of the robotics team. “Through robotics, I can see anything I want to pursue is possible.”

Many students share the similar story: they didn’t have much to look forward when they first enrolled at the school.

“If you were to ask me what I’d wanted for my life two or three years ago, I probably would have said working 9 to 5 or working at McDonalds,” explained Erick Sanchez, a 12th grade student who was responsible driving the robot at the competitions. “Ever since I came to the school, and they gave me an opportunity to join robotics, it really gave me an interest to do something in that field — something that involves building.”

Their robotics coach, Dr. Harald Holcomb, beams with pride when talking about his students and says it is every teacher’s “dream” to see his or her student reach the full potential.

“These students had harder times, but they have been able to step up and meet the challenges at the way at the end of the spectrum,” Dr. Holcomb says. “These guys can do anything they want to do. If they just sit down and do the work, they’ll accomplish wonderful things. I guarantee it.”

The robotics coach and science teacher adds that his team impressed other LAUSD students at the district’s own competition and finds it gratifying that other students, who are enrolled in AP classes and in bigger schools, are turning to his continuous school students for help.

“These students are offering advice on how to fix things. To see them coming out of their shells and build that confidence, what more can I ask for?

The Robert H. Lewis High School team was also lauded for its sportsmanship after the students offered their spare controller to a competition team when its device broke.

“The main purpose is to ‘coopetition’: it’s competition but at the same time, it’s cooperation,” explained Christian Martinez, an 11th grade student of the robotics team. “You can still be respectful and generous while competing – it’s gracious professionalism.”

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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