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In order to increase mobility, the Shenandoah Valley Adventist Elementary Robotics team built a compact-sized robot. This year, the robot was required to lift or push small objects, as well as traverse an unsteady bridge. (Photo by Courtesy photo)

Members of the Shenandoah Valley Adventist Elementary School Robotics Team, founded by Gordon Miller (right), display their first-place certificates at the Southern Challenge in Collegedale, Tenn. Miller believes robotics — the science of designing, building and operating robots — strengthens students’ logical thinking skills. (Photo by Courtesy photo)

Shenandoah Valley Adventist Elementary Team Set For Nationals

Daniel Chirvasuta, an eighth grader at Shenandoah Valley Adventist Elementary in New Market, has always enjoyed designing and building new creations.

“I used to play with Legos as though it was my full-time job,” he recalls.

As a member of the SVAE Robotics Team, however, Chirvasuta spends more time playing with robots these days.

The team was started by teacher Gordon Miller, who believes robotics — the science of designing, building and operating robots — helps students strengthen their logical thinking skills.

“I just wanted to give the kids an extra opportunity to learn about technology and logic,” explained Miller.

In mid-April, his team proved that they have made the most of that “extra opportunity” by winning first place at the Southern Challenge in Collegedale, Tenn.

On May 5, they will travel to Sacramento, Calif., to compete in the North American Division Championship Tournament.

The competitions are hosted by the Adventist Robotics League, a partner of the nonprofit organization FIRST, which encourages students to pursue careers in science or technology.

“This was our goal,” said Miller. “We raised money for it not even knowing if we would ever go.”

During the competition, teams will each present an autonomous robot they created using the given supply kits.

They will have two minutes and 30 seconds to demonstrate their robot’s ability to complete a variety of pre-assigned tasks.

Like the regional competition, the judges at nationals will rate teams according to five main areas; teamwork, robotic design, programming, the research project and the robotic run.

According to Miller, the teamwork aspect is the most challenging.

“Once you learn to work together as a team, everything else goes smoothly,” he says.

Fun, But Stressful

While the group agrees that the regional championship was a fun experience, they also admit it was stressful.

“Knowing that everyone was watching what you were doing was kind of scary,” recalls eighth grade student Heather Anderson.

“If you messed up, then it could be over for your team.”

Despite the pressure of competing against 24 other schools, Miller thinks they did “absolutely great.”

Already proud of his group for their performance at regionals, he says he is not worried about the upcoming competition.

Although they have already earned their coach’s approval, seventh grade student Gillian Fralick says the team is still trying their best to improve.

“We have been practicing our runs over and over,” she says.

“We also have been tweaking our programming so that it works more consistently.”

In addition to competing in Sacramento, the students are taking a short break from school in order to visit other parts of northern California.

On the agenda so far — seeing the California Redwoods, touring Alcatraz in San Francisco, and exploring Yosemite National Park.

Chirvasuta, who is “elated” about going to nationals, says he is grateful to have a coach who wants the team to have fun exploring the area.

“The farthest west I’ve been is four corners [in Utah/Colorado/Arizona/New Mexico] when I was four, so I don’t even remember that,” he says.

“This will be a totally new experience.”

Miller, who lived on the West Coast for years, is excited to introduce his East Coast students to the other side of the country.

“We’ll see the largest trees in the world; we’ll see the glory of Yosemite,” he says.

“This is going to be an amazing learning experience.”

Contact Katie King at (540) 574-6271 or email hidden; JavaScript is required.


Originally published in the May 3 issue of the North Fork Journal. Reprinted with permission.