Fifteen-year-old Caity Midyett and her brother Trenton have only been living in the area for four months, but already the two home-schooled students have made dozens of friends.
Through the Johnson County robotics team, Caity and her brother have not only learned mechanics but also how to make a business presentation, how to operate a variety of computer programs and, most importantly, the value of teamwork.
"It's just amazing being around these people," Caity said. "They're all just so smart it rubs off."
The Bonner Springs family first learned about the program through the Walnut Grove Bible Church when De Soto mother Barbara Duerksen spoke about the robotics team. This year, 26 home-schooled students from throughout rural Kansas City are participating in the project. For the past five years, Duerksen's children have participated in the program, sponsored by "Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology" or BEST. Duerksen's oldest son, Aaron, is now studying engineering at Kansas State University after spending years learning about robotics.
The team took its presentation Thursday to the state BEST competition. Saturday is the big game day, when the students will test their robot against others from across the state. The objectives of the robots change every year, and this year the robot will hang laundry and remove it from a clothesline.
The Johnson County home school team has a lot to live up to. Last year's team placed second overall in the state competition and placed third in the regional contest.
Seventeen-year-old Marilyn Oehmler, Olathe, said she's a little worried about this year's robot because the task is more complicated.
"It's free-moving, so it's more complicated," she said. "When you put string or line on, it gets complicated really fast because you can get tangled up."
The team will earn points based on how many pieces of clothing the robot can place on the line. They'll also have to overcome an obstacle course.
The students had to build their robot entirely from scratch in a few weeks' time. They received a kit from BEST in September. For about 15 hours a week since that time, the students cut wood, drilled holes, learned to operate various machinery and planned for a fully-operable robot. They compiled the entire process into a notebook and will make a presentation to the judges during the competition.
The presentation actually makes up a large part of the competition, Duerksen said, and the students will get points for their poise, speech and understanding of the project. The team also makes a booth to demonstrate the robot, creates a brochure and finds ways to build confidence for their team and other teams.
Eleven-year-old Laura Klingler, Lenexa, is also enjoying her first year as part of the team. She's working on the sportsmanship part of the competition. She and her teammates made banners and cheers for the robot team and made candy boxes for all the Kansas teams visiting the competition this year.
"I love being on the team because you get to go places and have fun," she said.
The team spent about $150 out-of-pocket for expenses, but also garnered donations from businesses throughout the community. Jet Model Products donated the use of a trailer to transport the robot. Altenhofen donated lumber. Garmin International donated the use of a projector, and Balance Innovations printed the team's notebook.
Sixteen-year-old KayLene Seaman, Olathe, is also involved for her first year. Her brothers began coming this year, and the Duerksens finally convinced her that young women could benefit from the robotics team as well. There are seven girls on the team this year.
"I'm always a big cheerleader for this project," Duerksen said. "We've helped others start their own teams, and we're hoping to be the catalyst for more projects."
For more information about the group, visit their Web site: www.jchrobotics.com.