For the second year in a row, middle-school students at Gordon Parks Academy are headed to the world championships in Vex Robotics. 

Team 71610D, one of four teams at GPA, qualified for the World Championship competition by winning the middle school state championship on March 3. Another team, 71610X qualified by earning enough points in competition throughout the year. 

Students earn their way to State and World Championships by the performance of their robot, and their ability to describe and document in an engineering notebook the process they used to come up with the solution to the problems they addressed. 

This year, GPA Robotics teams earned two skills championships, two judge’s awards, one design award, two tournament championships and two excellence awards, the highest honor at a VEX Robotics competition. GPA teams have achieved four of the six top skills scores in the State of Kansas. 

The students who have qualified for the world championship are  Gabriel Schauf, Emma Lindman, Allen Leggio, Oddessey Taylor, Dom Williams and Ben Nance.

Two more GPA teams are on the runners-up list and could receive an invitation to the world competition if qualifying teams are unable to make the trip to Dallas in late April.

Four GPA teams competed along with more than 500 teams from around the world in 2022 and two of them scored among the top 50 teams in skills competition. 

An all-girls team from GPA partnered with an all girls team from Australia and advanced to the elimination rounds of last year’s World Championship.

Great Learning Experience

“It was just a great experience for the kids,” robotics instructor Cory McCracken said. “There were teams from all over the world. We competed against teams from Spain, Kazakhstan, and a bunch of teams from Asia. It was really amazing to watch the kids interacting and working together.”

McCracken said participants never know which teams they might be partnered with by the fate of bracketing. Four teams compete in each match, two “red” teams and two “blue teams.”

The state champion GPA team partnered with a team from Allison Middle School in the final match of the state competition. 

“It’s not at all unusual to see members of one team helping out another competitor who may be having trouble with their robot or needing to make a repair,” McCracken said. 

Gordon Parks Academy is a USD 259 magnet school with specialties in STEM and Applied and Digital Arts.

“Robotics competition uses many of the skills needed for STEM careers – programming, teamwork, design, strategy and communication,” said McCracken, who emphasized the  experience and knowledge gained by students from the competitions is unmeasurable. 

“Many of our students have never had the opportunity to travel outside the state of Kansas,” he said. “Some have never stayed overnight in a hotel.”

Program at GPA is six years old

McCracken started the program at Gordon Parks six years ago when he moved to Wichita from Derby.

“A colleague I worked with in Derby invited me to a high school competition, thinking it might be something I would enjoy. He was trying to get teams formed at the middle school level,” he said. “I was hooked after about 20 minutes.”

McCracken is certified in teaching physical education in K-12. During his career, he also taught computer applications for four years and a pre-engineering course for a year; then he came across robotics.

“I’m not a programmer and not an engineer,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in the University of YouTube learning how these things work.”

Robotics students begin the year with a box of aluminum, steel and screws and build their robot from scratch, learning how to maneuver it and make it perform the specified competitive tasks.

“After the world championships, there will be a totally new game. The kids will come back, disassemble their robots and rebuild them based on what they need to do next year,” he said.

Donations needed to pay for trip

McCracken is now in the process of raising money to help offset the cost of travel to the world championships. He needs to raise about $10,000 to cover the cost of the trip. That pays for registration fees, travel, lodging and food for the students. Any money raised above the expenses of the trip will be used to help students upgrade their equipment or replace broken parts of their robots.

Donors of $50 or more will have their name and/or logo displayed at tournaments for a year. Donors of $100 or more will have their logo printed on the back of World Championship shirts as long as the donation is received by the April 8 printing deadline. 

A donation of $500 or more comes with a banner displaying their logo at GPA’s home tournament and in the pit area at World Championships. A donation of $1,000 or more comes with a logo displayed on the tournament field and the field being named after the donating company for one year.

Donations by check can be made payable to Gordon Parks Academy Robotics, 2201 EW 29th St. N., Wichita, Ks 67219. To donate by credit card, call Gordon Parks Academy at (316) 973-7500.

Last year’s World Championship travel was made possible by a donation from Equity Bank.

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