Two Students Representing Jackson in International Robot Competition

Of the 1,500 students from all across the world who will be descending on Louisville, Kentucky, for an international robotics competition later this month, two young robot-makers will be representing Jackson, Tennessee.

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Ben McCarver, a homeschool freshman, and Joshua Bernheisel, a seventh grader from a Northeast Middle School, managed to beat approximately 170 students in Tennessee to take the robots they designed in CO:bots to compete with some of the best student roboticists from all of the world, from the Middle East to Australia to South America.

At CO:bots, which meets every Thursday at theCO, students construct their own robots from scratch, starting with raw materials, such as axles, wheels, and pieces of metal.

“They start from scratch,” said KaBao McCarver, Ben’s mom and a facilitator of the program. “So they literally design their own robot, they build their own robot, they program these robots. . . . Kids will share design ideas, like ‘Here’s a really good claw that’s good at grasping,’ and they’ll come home and sketch something up and try to replicate that or improve upon it. . . . So it’s a wonderful way to build all these skills that they’re going to be able to use in the workforce in the form of a game.”

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The students then compete in local robotics competition.

“Most of the groups that come are school groups, so they’ll either be middle school or high school, and they’re sponsored and supported by the parents and the coaches and stuff,” KabBao said. “So our situation is a little bit unique, because we have kind of a ‘ragtag group’ of homeschoolers, private schoolers, and public schoolers, and we’ve kind of come together . . . pooled our resources under Mr. Rhodes [Barnette of Jackson Area Robotics]’s coaching and leadership. So we’re not technically a school, but we’ve done very well against some of the best-funded schools in the state of Tennessee with the help of theCO.”

At the competition, Ben and Bernheisel will participate in a game that will test their robot’s abilities. This year, the students will be randomly assigned a robot and divided into two teams. They have to use the robots to stack yellow cones onto one of their team’s six mobile bases. The team that can stack the most cones and pick up their bases to move them into the scoring zone wins. This means that the robots have to be able to navigate the field and lift and stack objects with precision. Some students have gotten their stacks as high as four feet.

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KaBao said that the fact that two of their roboticists are going to Worlds is a testament to how CO:bots is changing students’ lives.

“In West Tennessee, and, disappointingly, even in Jackson, there’s just not a lot of opportunity for STEM kids,” she said. “theCO has offered a safe place for these kids. . . . It’s been life-changing to have Mr. Rhodes take these kids under his wing. It’s been life-changing for theCO to open up this space, to give these kids a place to go, where they fit in, where they are understood, where they are encouraged, where they can have conversations with adults who don’t glaze over when they start talking about these things that they love. And that can enrich their lives as well as adults who are open to hearing their thoughts and ideas.”

CO:bots meets every Thursday at 5 p.m. and is open anyone ages 10 and up. To learn more, visit https://www.attheco.com/meetups.