Way to Go, Desert Brains!

March 19, 2013

Lewis and Clark Elementary School FIRST LEGO League Team Lewis & Clark Elementary School's 2013 FIRST LEGO League Team "Desert Brains." Their robot is being held in the front row.

In the fall of 2012, Dade Moeller made a modest donation -- $250 -- to a team of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Richland to help them participate in the FIRST LEGO League program -- an international robotics program designed to get children excited about science and technology. We learned about the team through a new (at the time) employee on our Radiological Site Services contract at Hanford -- Cheryl Antonio.

Starting Up the Team

"I had been trying for over a year to get a Lego Robotics Team at Lewis & Clark Elementary," said Cheryl, "because my son, who attends the school, had spent a few weeks each summer with the Boys & Girls Club at their MAC Robotics Camps and loved it! Working with the robots had been a great experience for him, and it really engaged ALL the kids. The Director of that program, Christopher Cree, found that kids who had been struggling in school responded really well to the robotics program and then became more engaged in school. It is a great tool to reach out to kids."

Cheryl explained, "Christopher Cree had been trying to get the Kennewick Boys & Girls Club to sponsor a FIRST Lego League team, but, because we do not live in Kennewick, my son wouldn't have been able to participate. So the only other option to get my son on a Lego Robotics team was to start up one at his elementary school. Since I had no experience with the FIRST Lego League program (and I was already coaching youth soccer), I was looking for someone else to head up a team, and that is where the Battelle Staff Association stepped in."

"The Regional FIRST Lego League Director, who also is the point of contact for the FIRST Lego League support program at Battelle," said Cheryl, "contacted another employee with a child at Lewis & Clark Elementary, Clay Hagler, and provided him some training and guidance. Clay volunteered to coach a team, and we worked together to find 11 students to start the program off."


"Unfortunately, my son had previously committed to a Destination Imagination Team, and the practices were at the same time," said Cheryl, "so he wouldn't be able to participate this year. But, even though my son wasn't on the team, I felt the program would be great for the Lewis & Clark students, and I still wanted to help. Fundraising would be required because the start-up costs were huge, and that is where I helped out. The total cost for registration and equipment was $800."

At this point, Cheryl mentioned the team casually to co-worker Paula Tumlinson, who just so happened to be involved with Dade Moeller's charitable giving program. Paula encouraged Cheryl to nominate the Lewis & Clark team for a donation, and the rest is history!

"Dade Moeller's donation was the motivator that got the kids and parents active in fundraising. Before Dade Moeller's contribution, the total funds needed seemed unattainable!" said Cheryl.

In addition to Dade Moeller's $250 contribution:

  • Cheryl organized a bake auction that raised $563.
  • One of the kids on the team for his birthday asked family and friends for donations to the Lego Robotics team in lieu of presents, which brought in $200.
  • Coach Clay pitched the idea to his coworkers, and, at one business meeting he attended, he was given a robot kit!

By the end of their fundraising efforts, the team had one new robot with all the gear, as well as two donated units.

Senior Solutions

This year's FIRST Lego League competition had a theme of "Senior Solutions," and each team was tasked with designing an autonomous robot that could solve a real-world challenge for our elder generation. The Lewis & Clark team, together with their volunteer coaches and helpers, met in the school's library for about 2 hours every Friday afternoon from October through February.

Regional Tournament

In February, the team, named the "Desert Brains," competed in the Regional Tournament and won an award for "Robot Design: Strategy!" As this was their first year in the program and their coaches' first time, too, everybody was thrilled with how well the team did!

More to Come...

Cheryl, Clay, and others at Lewis & Clark Elementary are setting up the Lego Robotics program so that it can be continued year after year, even after their own children move on to middle school. One reason they included third graders was so they could continue in the program over the next couple of years and help sustain it as new students join. "The staff at Lewis & Clark are fully supportive of the program," said Cheryl, "so it will continue to grow. A few of the teachers also have expressed interest in including the robots in their curriculum or starting a robotics club."

We at Dade Moeller are so happy for the Desert Brains and so proud of all their hard work! We are honored to have been able to support and encourage a love of learning and of science at Lewis & Clark Elementary! And, on a related note, the team from neighboring Pasco ("the Geek Squad") won the State Competition and will represent the State of Washington at the World Championships in Missouri later this year! Congratulations to the Geek Squad, too! Nice work!