Kudos to Guam robotics team! We must do more to support students

Congratulations to Guam’s robotics team for a stellar performance in Dubai.

In October, a team of about 10 high school students represented Guam in the FIRST Global robotics competition in Dubai, Arab Emirates.

Team Guam joined thousands of other students at the Dubai Festival Arena for what organizers billed “the world’s most exciting robotics competition, uniting the world’s youth to transform the world.”

According to the website, FIRST Global organizes a yearly international robotics challenge to ignite a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, among the more than two billion youths across the world.

There were 191 competing teams from countries around the world — including Germany, South Africa, United Kingdom, Mexico, Italy, Portugal, New Zealand, Egypt, Australia, and Canada.

The students had to apply to get on the team. They went through an interview process and were chosen based on their ability to code and program, and their understanding of this year’s challenge, according to team mentor and manager Leah Beth Naholowaa.

The competition, which was themed Ocean Opportunities, required competing alliances to clear the ocean by collecting pollutants, delivering them to processing areas, and removing their robots, or collectors, from the ocean. Collectors scored points by depositing pollutants onto the three levels of centrally-located processing barge. Each level represents different degrees of processing – recovery, recycle and reuse.

Team Guam won eight of their nine matches. They placed fifth in the overall competition and third in the ranked playoffs.

According to the Guam Department of Education, the main team members are:

• Team captain Bazyll Garcia, Okkodo High School

• Co-captain Lexis Sablan, Tiyan High School

• Main driver Danny Morta, Simon Sanchez High School

• Driver Benjamin Kim, Tiyan High School

• Team spokesperson Avinash Dharaj, home schooled

• Intern Daniel Iriarte, George Washington High School

• Intern Daryl Garcia, Okkodo High School

• Intern Lord Mabalot, Okkodo High School

• Intern Ely Catalan, Okkodo High School

They were coached by Roderick Hidalgo.

Congratulations to the students, and their teachers, parents and coaches!

This isn’t Guam’s first showing at a global competition and from the looks of what’s going on in public and private school classrooms on island, it won’t be our last.

This competition and others like it, illustrate the potential of our children – their ability to not just learn, but apply what they’ve learned to solve real world problems.

Imagine if we have a generation of Guamanians who are educated and well versed in technology and the specific challenges we face on Guam. They can help find ways to preserve and propagate our coral reefs to protect our island’s shores and provide food security, while promoting them as an attraction in our economy. Or they can tackle how to responsibly and efficiently get rid of the approximately 20,000 tons of trash collected and buried at the Layon Landfill. (It’s going to cost Guam taxpayers about $20 million to construct a new cell for more trash with cells 1 and 2 nearly filled.)

The Guam team’s showing in Dubai also underscores the need for Guam’s elected leaders to ensure that the Guam Department of Education is properly funded. GDOE needs more qualified and passionate teachers to educate and invigorate our youth. Our students need safe and clean learning environments, and teachers must have the tools to help teach the skills students need to succeed and grow.

The students who represented the island Dubai are certainly some of our brightest and best, but with the right support, we know we can encourage more of our kids to work harder and strive to reach new heights.

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