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The BearBots head to the 2022 VEX Robotics World Championship

The dedication of Harpeth Hall’s new robotics team is fierce.

Nearly every day after school since August, a small but mighty group of Upper School students has met to conceptualize, design, analyze, and engineer a robot. No one made them do it. It wasn’t a requirement for a grade or a test. They simply reveled in the opportunity to show what an incredibly intelligent and capable group of girls could do.

From a starter kit of aluminum rods, flat bearings, green plastic gears, and hundreds of tiny nuts and screws, they built a basic structure. They tested it. Sketched new concepts. And then — over many weeks and many months — they improved it. They made the robot bigger and more agile. They added grips and claws. They introduced a sensor.

And they made the robot smarter.

Junior Sarah Joffrion, who had been working alongside her teammates five days a week for nearly half a school year, came in every single morning during Winterim for an hour or two before her internship to write the code that would allow the team’s robot to expertly maneuver on its own during competitions. In total, Sarah spent over 50 hours creating code for this year’s robot.

Through that commitment and creativity, Harpeth Hall’s robotics team has achieved milestones rare for a first-year competition team — first with an Excellence Award at a local tournament, then at state competition, and now with their sights set on the global stage. This week, the team will showcase its engineering, design, and programming skills against the best of the best high school teams at the 2022 VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas, Texas. More than 800 schools from across the globe will be in attendance. The trip marks the first time a Harpeth Hall robotics team has qualified for worlds.

“As a first-year team, it was super impressive simply to make it to state,” Robotics teacher Matthew Groves said. “I am sure a first-year team making it to Worlds has happened before, but I have never heard of it happening before.”

In fact, Mr. Groves looked back at his “five-year goals” of the robotics program at Harpeth Hall and making it to the VEX Robotic World Championships was not even on his initial list. The dedication showed by Sarah, Kathleen Lowe, Lena Qian, Tiana Shah, and Nandu Govindaswamy, made it happen.

Kathleen, a junior, has been on the robotics team since her freshman year. For two years, she wondered why the group could not build a robot that could drive.

Enter Mr. Groves, a math and science teacher who joined the Harpeth Hall faculty this year after coaching his previous school to a Tennessee robotics state championship in 2021.

Under his direction, Kathleen realized that the issue they have been facing as a team had nothing to do with capabilities, but rather an issue of the organization and structure of the team. The addition of the robotics room in the Bullard Bright IDEA Lab has allowed for the team to have a dedicated space to build, code, and refine their robot. The students on the team have seized the new opportunities to make their competition robot the best it can be.

“I'm beyond grateful that Harpeth Hall decided to invest in us,” Kathleen said. “This past year has proved that we, as women, can perform just as well in a competition like this as anyone else and that we can and should be curious, creative, and competitive when it comes to things that we love.”

In February, The BearBots – the name chosen for the new team – won The Excellence Award at a regional VEX Robotics tournament.

The Excellence Awards is the highest award in VEX Robotics that requires being in the top three of the tournament for all judged categories: note booking, interviewing, driving, and coding.

“Honestly, winning Excellence at a tournament was a stretch goal of mine for year two or three, and I’ve never heard of a first-year team winning,” Mr. Groves said of the award. "Tennessee is a competitive state, and several of our rival schools regularly send teams to the world championship and perform well there. For a first-year team to beat some of those other teams for the Excellence Award is unheard of, and it's a testament to their dedication. The BearBots have put in an incredible amount of time and effort all year, and this honor is well-deserved."

In March, The BearBots competed against the 48 top teams in Tennessee at the state championships. There, Lena's driving and Sarah's coding led the team to a skill score that was high enough to qualify for the world championship competition.

On May 4, five members of the BearBots team, Sarah, Lena, Kathleen, Tiana, and Nandu will travel to Dallas to compete against teams from across the globe.

During worlds, the students will face off in a two-on-two competition that consists of completing a series of tasks to collect points for your team, a single-player competition called “skills” that will test the individual aspects of a team including driving, coding, and note booking, and a team interview process. The results of the two-on-two competitions will determine the winner of the tournament while the other components will decide which of the high-caliber awards are presented to teams.

Harpeth Hall’s robotics team can’t wait to showcase the skills of “Jar of Dirt” or Jarry, for short — the affectionate nickname selected from the Pirates of the Caribbean and given to the robot they have spent so many hours building this year.

He’s as fierce as any daring swashbuckler. Just like they are.

TUNE IN

You can watch the BearBots compete live! Follow all the action on the Livestream link here.

Friday, May 6

  • Qualification Q12 - 10:18 a.m.
  • Qualification Q24 - 11:02 a.m.
  • Qualification Q57 - 1:53 p.m.
  • Qualification Q67 - 2:28 p.m.
  • Qualification Q95 - 4:07 p.m.
  • Qualification Q113 - 5:10 p.m.
  • Qualification Q131 - 6:14 p.m.

Saturday, May 7

  • Qualification Q148 - 8:29 a.m.
  • Qualification Q185 - 10:43 a.m.
  • Qualification Q204 - 11:52 a.m.

As a part of the competition, the robot is programmed to complete a route and a set of skills. This is a recording of a practice route from this fall.