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‘Do, build, succeed’

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image The seniors at SunTowers had made it possible for these students to have a dream.

The Robotics Club started in May 2013. Members won their first competition when they built Goliath while competing at USF against graduate students there and a professional team.

By LIA MARTIN
lia@observernews.net

Two students from the Lennard High School Robotics Club had the seniors living at SunTowers sitting on the edge of their seats while listening to the students describe the robots they had built and the awards they had won.

More importantly, you could see how the students living their dream were captured within the hearts of those listening. For, you see, the listeners had made it possible for these students to have a dream. The residents donated $1,000 to the Robotics Club.

Joe Figueroa, 16, and Silvania “Silvie” Valerio, 15, are in 10th grade at Lennard High in Ruskin. They have big plans. Because of the Robotics Club, Figueroa and Valerio are going to college. In a school where kids tend to get into trouble because of a lack of things to do, or purpose to do them, the Robotics Club is saving their future.

Figueroa says he wants to go to the University of South Florida and study engineering. Next year, as a junior, he is going to participate in the dual-enrollment program, which means he will already have the first two years of college under his belt by the time he graduates from high school.

He has big plans and has set goals. Figueroa started attending the Robotics Club this year.

“I found an opportunity to join, so I took it,” Figueroa said. “I wanted to build robots, and I am already applying for scholarships to USF.”

Figueroa describes how he was bored and lost, not knowing what to do with his life on a day-to-day basis. He said he was just watching television and trying to find things to do after school. This may be one of the most important aspects of this club — it is giving a future to kids just like Figueroa.

Jim Reve knows how much impact the program is having already on students. Reve started the Robotics Club with funds from his own pocket. You know the dedication he has to the students has to be one of the reasons why Reve left a career at Lockheed Martin and NASA to become a teacher. His inspiration came from his teachers when he was a student in Crystal River, Fla. He remembers that his physical education teacher told all his students: “Once you’re one of my kids, you’re always one of my kids.” Reve said that teacher was honored in his 90s and that all 165 of his “kids” came to honor him.

“It’s about keeping a challenge,” Reve said. “We have 35 to 50 kids building stuff every Monday and Wednesday, instead of going out and getting in trouble.”

If he could be half the teacher his teachers were, that would be Reve’s dream. Reve doesn’t take personal credit for the achievements of his Robotics Club students. He says they do it all themselves with very little help.

“I like to build things,” Valerio, club president, said when asked why she joined the Robotics Club. “I like taking things apart and putting them back together again.”

Valerio said she also wants to study engineering at USF, but she said she also wants to have a career in the United States Army.

The Robotics Club started in May 2013. Members won their first competition when they built Goliath while competing at USF against graduate students there and a professional team.

“We beat them hands down,” Reve said. He said that after the graduate students endured the defeat, they were determined to compete against the Lennard High team again. “Two Saturdays ago, they invited us back, and we tore them up again! We came in first and second.”

Admittedly, he said, the graduate students had more robust robots (read a lot more funding to build them) and they did score in the competition.

One of the SunTowers female residents asked Figueroa if there were any girls in the club. Currently the club has around 15 girls and 25 boys, which is a rather high percentage of girls pursuing engineering interests, according to Reve. He attributes the interest to Valerio.

“Historically, engineering is not a big thing for girls,” Reve said. “More and more girls are seeing Silvie here, which is encouraging more girls.”

According to Debbie Caneen of SunTowers and board president of the Sun City Center Area Chamber of Commerce, six months ago Reve approached her about needing funding to “build robotics and change the world.” He was worried that the Robotics Club would not be able to keep going because it was an extracurricular activity at Lennard High. This means the club cannot receive direct funding from the School District of Hillsborough County.

Caneen already had been working with club members to find parts that could be recycled to build robots. During the presentation last week, Reve acknowledged he had been using his own money to keep the program going.

“Up until that point, it was coming out of my pocket,” Reve said to those SunTower residents. “You were the first to help, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The residents asked questions and were happy with the answers. They look forward to the next school year, when Reve, Valerio and Figueroa will return with robots to show.

“Robotics is something I really like and enjoy,” Valerio said. “Everybody has a small part in something to make it big .... Mr. Reve made that dream come true. We make new things out of old things.”

The list of trophies the Lennard High Robotics Club won in the 2013/2014 school year:
• 2nd Place, NASA Egglander competition, May 2013
• 2nd Place, Best Robotics competition, November 2013
• 1st place, 15-pound Battlebot competition at USF Engineering Expo, February 2014
• 2nd place, 3-pound Battlebot competition at USF Engineering Expo
• 4th place, 1-pound Battlebot competition at USF Engineering Expo
• 1st Place, 15-pound Battlebot competition at MakerCon, April 2014
• 2nd place, 3-pound Battlebot competition at MakerCon

Because the Robotics Club is an extracurricular activity and cannot receive direct funding from the  School District of Hillsborough County, any donations of equipment and/or money would be appreciated. The budget for the 2013-2014 school year was $3,990.96, all from donations. Left in the budget for the returning students of the 2014-2015 school year is only $73.52. Checks may be made out to “Lennard Robotics” and dropped off at the school, or sent to Lennard High School, 2342 East Shell Point Road, Ruskin, FL 33570.

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