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Port Students' FIRST Robotics Build Under Way

The Port Washington High School is participating in the FIRST Robotics competition for the first time this year, and students are spending lots of hours in preparation for the event.

While from the outside a high school robotics team seems like something that caters to science-minded students, FIRST Robotics volunteer Jim Valasek said the mentor-based program is about more than learning one genre.

"(The students) are almost running a little business," said Valasek, who is also a senior project manager at Rockwell Automation.  Students are divided into teams such as designing, building, marketing as well as fundraising as part of the project, he said.

FIRST stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," and the program has several levels of robotics competitions, offering opportunities for kids age 6 through high school.

The Port PiraTech robotics team, formed at Port Washington High School for the first time ever this year, is working in overdrive preparing for the competition.

The team is meeting from 6 to 10 p.m. four nights a week, and from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturdays; they have until Feb. 19 to build the robot for a competition to be held in March.

The robots cannot cost more than $4,000, Valasek said, with no individual component costing more than $400. The Port PiraTech team has raised $3,000 through fundraising efforts.

The team is comprised of more than 30 students, and was launched after students started saying they were interested.

"If you go to one of these competitions and you see what they're doing there, you'll get hooked right after the first one," Valasek said.

School Board President James Eden, who's familiar with the FIRST Robotics program from other schools, pointed out that the project also focuses highly on teamwork — even among the competing teams.

"It's as much about teamwork and collaboration — for first-timers, there's a group down there that will be right there to help. To me, that is really a very interesting and strong component of (the project)," Eden said.

PiraTech will host a public open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 4, in room 423 of the high school to show off its robot, according to an Ozaukee Press article.

The regional competition takes place March 21 to 23 at the U.S. Cellular area, 400 W. Kilbourn Ave., Milwaukee, and high school Principal Eric Burke is hopeful there will be a big turnout.

"We're going to promote it like a sporting event," he said, "We hope to have kids coming down and seeing what's going on."

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor for the project can contact Alec Belling at Alec.Belling@pwssd.k12.wi.us, Ryan Volke at Ryan.Volke@pwssd.k12.wi.us or Eric Burke at Eric.Burke@pwssd.k12.wi.us.

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