The Redwood Area School District has offered a robotics program for a number of years, but that program took a huge step ahead this school year.

Seated in one of the new classrooms in the Estebo Career Development and Training Center, eight Redwood Valley High School students sat and listened to Todd Steve, who has served as one of the coaches and mentors of the robotics program from the beginning.

Steve was not there to guide them in the traditional after-school robotics program. He was teaching them as part of a class. For the first time the local high school is offering robotics as one of the courses students are able to enroll in as part of their school day.

“Having this class has been huge,” said Steve, adding that is particularly true with the number of days the students have missed because of the weather. “We have been able to spend more time in the early stages coming up with ideas, finding problems and making changes.”

Among those who enrolled in the class is Corey Diekmann, a high-school senior, who is in his second year of involvement in robotics.

“Mr. Steve noticed I had an interest and encouraged me to try it,” said Diekmann. 

Diekmann added once he got involved he really enjoyed the experience. So, when the opportunity to be in a classroom setting arose he felt that was something he really wanted to do.

“We got a much bigger head start because of the class time,” said Diekmann, adding it is really nice to have dedicated time every school day to work.

Diekmann said he has learned a lot more about working together with others as a team and about problem solving by being involved in robotics and this new class.

Courtney Manee has been involved in robotics for three years, and said she is gaining understanding in areas of interest for her as well as learning life skills she knows will be used throughout the rest of her life.

Manee said the new class provided the chance to plan things out more before the students got in and started building.

Owen Smith, a second-year member of the robotics team, said there has been a lot more time to work on solving problems, adding having the class did not mean getting the robot finished more quickly as they still worked on it until they had to bag it up Feb. 19.

The team had more time to drive the robot and to tweak some of the things they discovered, and because of that they are going into the competition much better prepared.

According to Manee, the team will leave for Duluth to take part in the competition this coming Wednesday, with Thursday dedicated to practicing and the games starting Friday and continuing into Saturday.

According to Steve, there are 38 members who have been part of the team this year, and he said there continues to be strong interest in the program. He believes having a robotics class will really help the program to grow.

This year’s contest for the FIRST® Robotics competition is “Destination: Deep Space,” and the challenge is to load “cargo” into a rocket and to ensure the cargo stays in the rocket with “hatches.” Teams of robots face off in the challenge of loading the cargo, securing hatches and returning the robot to its habitat. Each game is two minutes and 30 seconds in length.

The Redwood Valley team opted to build a robot that will help secure hatches, and this year it also included a ramp that it will use to help other teams secure more habitat points.

Manee and Smith said while the ultimate goal is to qualify for the worlds competition, the team hopes to still be in the mix when the final rounds of competition are taking place later this coming Saturday.

According to Steve, the RVHS robotics team 4741 The WingNuts is participating in the Lake Superior Regional competition in Duluth March 8-9. Those who are interested may follow the competition at www.thebluealliance.com and then scroll down to Lake Superior Regional. The local team's match schedule will be posted Friday morning, and all of its matches will be streamed live at that link.