2016-12-10 / Front Page

Innovation unlocks bright future for elementary students

St. James School team vies for FIRST LEGO League state championship
By ED PIERCE
Executive Editor

BIDDEFORD—Solutions to some of the toughest global problems in the future may come from an unlikely source right here in Biddeford.

On Saturday, a team of elementary students from Biddeford's St. James School will vie for the FIRST LEGO League Maine State Championship at the Augusta Civic Center and the competition is intended to create an awareness of the purpose and global value of STEM education for children.

"It is amazing what our kids have been able to accomplish in this program," said Nancy Naimey, St. James School principal and one of the team's coaches. "This is our second year of having a team and it's rewarding to see everyone working so hard toward a common goal." 

Demand for graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers is growing every year and vital to a future with leaders equipped to solve complex worldwide problems.

Sponsored by Maine Robotics, the FIRST LEGO League promotes growth and interest in the sciences of engineering and computers in an annual competition that challenges students to work together to solve relevant problems using Legos, robotics and scientific principles.

Naimey said that every year the FIRST LEGO League program hosts a new theme and robotic missions for students and this year's challenge is "Animal Allies."

Teams build, test, and program robots made entirely from LEGOs to compete on a 4-foot by 8-foot playing field with missions and challenges devoted to the yearly theme. Each team also researches and gives a presentation about a topic within the theme and also is evaluated on team spirit, teamwork, programming and design.

"I had done this last year at another school and I thought it was fun, so I joined here this year," said sixth-grader Misha King. "We've learned so much about so many different things."

This year, the St, James team chose to take on the challenge of coming up with a solution for elephant poaching and designed a sophisticated collar for elephants that is equipped with a pulse sensor to monitor heartbeats, a camera for monitoring elephants by game wardens, a GPS tracker and an alert system for animals in distress.

The team's name is the St. James "Fighting for Tusks," said eighth-grader Josh Paquet, and their solution to elephant poaching is multi-faceted.

"Our idea to save elephants from poachers and dying is to create a collar that would protect the elephant," Paquet said. "When the elephant's heart rate is elevated, it would make a noise to scare hunters and poachers away and would alert nearby game wardens."

Besides collaborating to formulate its presentation, team members also designed robotic exercises around the concept of an African elephant preserve, conceived and drew up all visual materials explaining the team's core values and created team T-shirts and brochures for the state competition.        

Fourth-grader Henry Kenniston said participating in the after-school activity has kindled his interest in robotics.

"I like it and like learning about coding," he said. "It's hard to do as many missions as we can in a few minutes, but it's great when it all works the way we want it to."

Sixth-grader Emma Paquet said the skills she's learned as a member of the St. James team are invaluable.

"It's good to work together," she said. "That's because it's easier to come up with solutions as a group and narrow down ideas. We've been able to work through disagreements together for the good of the team."      

Although they are just elementary students, the team's innovative solution to elephant poaching has merit and recently, St. James School was contacted by Dr. Cynthia Moss and Tal Manor of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Nairobi, Kenya, to learn more about the team's potential solution and to thank the students for ther interest in protecting elephants.

The St. James team includes Liam Scott, Nikita King, Misha King, Emma Paquet, Josh Paquet, Tyler Chen, Henry Kenniston, Elliana Durkee, Daniel Macolini and Conner Shea.

Emma Houston and Evy Carson are team mascots, with Nancy Naimey and Jennifer Lafrance serving as team coaches. Team sponsors are Kobe, Kevin Paquet, Saco House of Pizza and Winxnet. 

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be contacted 282-1535, ext. 326 or by email at editor@journaltribune.com.

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