Brooke schools honor robotics team

WELLSBURG – A Brooke High School team that placed first in a state competition involving their creation and use of a robot was recognized and the school’s principal reported on efforts to deter false bomb threats at Tuesday’s Brooke County school board meeting.

The school’s chapter of Technology Students of America was formed earlier this year so it was the group’s first entry in the robotics competition.

Not only did Toby Finsley, Josh Ross, Gavin Brown, Jason Sprinkle, Courtney Fiber and Hunter Simms advance from a regional competition last fall at Fairmont State College. They also went on to place first at the state competition held in March in Ripley, making them eligible to compete at TSA’s national conference in Washington, D.C., in June.

Chris Mockbee, the club’s advisor, said participants could choose from 35 competitions involving the use of technology in diverse fields ranging from fashion design to airplane construction.

He encouraged them to enter six events so they would gain a broad range of experience from the event, but it was in the VEX Robotics event where they shone.

Mockbee explained they were required to build miniature robots using kits supplied by robotics manufacturer VEX, the contest’s sponsor, to perform specific tasks set by the contest’s coordinators.

The robots should be able to operate by remote control and through computer programming, on their own, with extra points awarded for those that most effectively act independently.

For the meeting’s attendees, including pupils from Hooverson Heights Primary School, the six simulated the competition in which their robot was required to lift a large ball over a pair of wood rails.

Mockbee has agreed to bring the group to the school to repeat the demonstration for its Science Math Engineering and Technology Club.

Such clubs have been formed at local schools in recent years to encourage an interest in engineering and other math-related fields where there is a severe shortage.

Mockbee said the club has been selling small toy robots for $7 each to raise funds in the earlier competitions and the upcoming national competition, which requires about $1,000 per student. It’s also selling TSA T-shirts and accepting donations through at BHSTSA.

For information, call Mockbee at the school at (304) 527-1410.

In other business, Toni Shute, the high school’s principal, told the board steps are being taken to deter false bomb threats like the one on April 9 that led officials to dismiss students early.

The threat and others have been found in writing in the school’s restrooms, so plans have been made to move benches currently located outside the restrooms, Shute said.

She explained the gathering of students in those areas made it difficult for officials to identify students recorded entering the restrooms by video cameras in the hallways.

Shute said there also have been a couple of incidents of students arriving at school with knives, saying they did so because they feared bullies.

She said though programs on bullying have been held at the school, large screen televisions will be posted in the hallways and cafeterias to air messages about that and other negative influences, such as drug and alcohol abuse, during lunch periods.

Shute said the TVs have been purchased using a $15,000 grant secured by state Sens. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, and Robert “Rocky” Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling, and Del. Phil Diserio, D-Brooke.

She said those in the cafeteria also may be used for other educational purposes because they’re equipped to provide a real time video link between classes at the school and people in various places, such as students in other states or countries.

Shute said following the latest bomb scare, she and staff met with students to encourage students to report any suspicious activity and stress false bomb threats can lead to criminal charges.

Also on Tuesday, the board agreed to hire McKinley and Associates of Wheeling to plan a new middle school and other projects determined by it.

The board has made plans to replace Follansbee and Wellsburg middle schools with a new middle school near the high school. It hopes to pay for the building with funds from the state School Building Authority and local funds through passage of a bond issue to go on ballots in November.

McKinley and Associates was involved in the development of the school district’s 10-year comprehensive educational facilities plan.

With input from a committee of school staff and community members, the plan prescribed replacing the middle schools as well as building two new primary schools to replace the several current ones.

Because of cost concerns, the board isn’t pursuing the new primary schools at this time.

Board member Chad Haught asked if any other engineers had submitted proposals.

Rob Robinson, the school district’s facilities supervisor, said architect Lou Bernardi of Weirton also did but McKinley was recommended because of its extensive experience designing schools in West Virginia.

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