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Valley High Schoolers' Robots Invade Competition-A Hopeful Sign [VIDEO]

From Studio City, Campbell Hall, Harvard-Westlake and Bridges Academy are involved.

(Among the local schools involved in this are Campbell Hall, Harvard-Westlake and Bridges Academy from Studio City, and Sherman Oak's Notre Dame High School as well as John Burroughs High School in Burbank, La Canada High School, Canoga Park High, Granada Hills Charter, Chaminade College Prep in West Hills and High Tech in Van Nuys.)

Basketball, shmasketball. I mean I love college basketball and all, but once The Beach was out of it, my bracket looking very sad, I was a little less enthusiastic. So I found some real March Madness right here at the Long Beach Arena this weekend.

I attended one of the most exciting events I have been to in a very long time. Really. The FIRSTRobotics Competition Los Angeles Regional was going on from Thursday through Saturday. Teams came to Long Beach from all over, mostly from California but there were even two teams from South America. The level of intensity and excitement in the arena was palpable as I walked onto the floor. Hundreds of teams of high school students cheered, screamed, sang, danced, hooted, jumped, clapped - and worked very hard to make their robots do what they were supposed to do. Due to the project theme, many basketballs were flying through hoops too.

As I watched I had one of those emotional epiphanies about how the future might still hold some promise. You know how you get all verklempt when you watch a performance by a group of talented kids? Well, at least I do. Like when I watch my niece read her poem about Martin Luther King, Jr. in front of her class, or while I sit in the audience in our school auditorium and watch all the kids perform their hearts out, doing little song and dance numbers like it was the Broadway Stage .... It just makes me feel like there is still a core of perfectness in those kids that is untouched and crystalline, filled with aspirations and hope. I know it is corny but it happens to me all the time.

And in the midst of lots of bad stuff, in the schools, in the news, in the world, it feels so good to have a moment of appreciation and enjoyment of good things that people are engaging in, despite all of the other ugliness.

The FIRST programs - which have NASA support - truly epitomize that for me. They are run almost solely by volunteers; sponsors and contributors fund the entire undertaking; and kids get to shine doing some fabulous things. For me, it just doesn't get any better. These were high school kids who were dressed in crazy outfits, with dyed hair to match their team colors, cheering for an activity that took major brain power to accomplish and may well set them all on paths to success for the rest of their lives. No kidding. There were mascots running around encouraging the teams, an MC leading the crowd in chants and the classic YMCA dance, and a DJ fueling the crowd with loud, upbeat music. And the competitors go home with a feeling of true achievement, as well as opportunities to apply for a multitude of college scholarships. 

I took my 5th grade daughter with me to this event, because I want her to see that she can follow this path if she wants. We have already begun to explore the realm of robotics--she by participating in a Lego Mindstorm robotics team at her school, sponsored by the local non-profit Shared Science, and me by helping with the coaching. So we have seen some of this excitement before, but at a lower level, and I think she might be taking to it. I hope she is. The high level of sportsmanship, excitement, knowledge-sharing, camaraderie, fun and inspiration make this one of the most valuable experiences I could think of for any child, or even for an adult. What you get out of it, either by volunteering like our local Belmont Shore robotics expert Terry Wells, who was out on the field refereeing, or by becoming a part of a team, cannot be measured in dollars or grades.

It is so much bigger than that.

Truly the one and only slightly sad thing that I realized this weekend is that there was just one local Long Beach team from the California Academy of Math and Science--despite the fact that this is the 12th time the Regional has been held in Long Beach. Despite the worldwide spread of this amazing program (go to www.usfirst.org for more info), Long Beach schools were practically absent. Even though Boeing is a major sponsor of many teams--along with many other corporations such as JCPenney, Xerox, Motorola, Time Warner, and lots of smaller businesses--Long Beach only had one team listed in the program. That doesn't seem right.

So I hope that when you take a look at my photos and watch the little video clips, you get a sense of the greatness of this program. And I hope you will encourage a child you know to participate. Or find out out how to volunteer some time by helping to start a team. It could be the best thing you ever do for a kid, or yourself.

For a list of high schools with robotics teams competing, see the attached PDF. They range from Beverly Hills, Studio City, Redondo Beach, Culver City and South Gate, Sherman Oaks and Huntington Park.

Another great opportunity: A summer camp for high school girls that is held in Montrose, hosted by Girl Scouts at their lovely facility there. Rock N Roll Robots Summer Camp. Any girl can participate, girl scout or not, Visit http://girlscoutsla.org for more information.

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