School board meets winning robotics team, approves trip expense


April 21, 2022

A very happy group of students introduced themselves to the Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors on Tuesday.

All 16 members of the robotics club, lead by volunteer Ron Wright, are headed to the east coast in June to compete in an international underwater robotic competition after one of their teams took first place in a qualifying event at the Cathlamet pool on Friday.

Wright said there will be 170 teams from all over the world in Maryland for the SeaPerch Challenge, competing in three different categories.

A team from Naselle took second place in the event last week, and will be headed to Maryland in June as well.

The Wahkiakum team showed off one of their underwater robots, and explained how it was designed and how it worked.

“There are over 300 lines of programming for that one robot,” one of the students explained.

They had to take the robot through an obstacle course during the qualifying event, as well as a mission course where the robot had to unlatch and open a door, remove batteries, and more. They also had to create a video and write an engineering report.

Director Paula Culbertson, who acted as a judge for a portion of the qualifying event, praised the team for their engineering reports.

“You guys showed the most spirit and humanity," she said. "It was fun reading your things, seeing your videos, not just because we’re from here, but to be objective about it, you had some oomph that the other two districts did not have. So keep that up, it’s priceless."

“We’re really happy for you; you’ve done great,” Superintendent Brent Freeman said. "But we are really proud of you. You have done so well with this.”

“When you guys went in and debriefed…” he added, “that’s as good as it gets in adult life. It was impressive to see you guys come together like that. You’re a team that epitomizes what teams should be. We wish you the best.”

Unfortunately for Wright, he made a deal with the students. They could push him into the pool if they won the event.

“He was trying to change the score,” one student said.

It didn’t do Wright any good. He still ended up in the pool.

Wright asked the board for approval to allow the team to leave on June 1, so the students could see a bit of Washington D.C., get acclimated before the competition, and have one more day afterward to recuperate and maybe visit one more location.

The board approved travel and a hotel, and Wright said the team would be fundraising for another $6-8,000 to pay for meals, ground transportation and more during their stay.

Wright said that any sponsors who wanted to get their name on a T-shirt should contact him by Friday or Saturday.

And he added, Naselle needed help with fundraising too.

“They are in a tougher place than we are,” he said. “If there is a way to encourage helping Naselle, that would be great.”

“We’re going to internationals,” he said happily. “We’re on a train that is winning.”

Donations for the team can be made out to Wahkiakum ASB, with a notation for robotics on the memo line, and dropped off or mailed to Wahkiakum School District, or given to Wright.

If anyone would like to see the team in action, they will participate in a Super Saturday 4-H event on April 30 at the fairgrounds from 10-12.

Freeman gave an update on technology at the school district. He said that cyber issues will drive up insurance premiums.

He talked about the security systems the school has in place and the work that went into creating a more complex system than they used to have.

“We have a very stable, reliable, and supportable network at this point. We haven’t had a network outage in months. We had one because of a software issue, but it was our fault,” he said.

“I want a stronger network spread out to wider parts of the district,” he added, before talking a bit about the criteria the district has to meet in order to get insurance.

The state contributes a little over $13,000 to staff the district’s IT department, Freeman said.

“That’s nothing,” he added.

They will create a cyber para position at the district to check out Chromebooks, so the district IT person, Paul Ireland, can focus on other things.

A number of Chromebooks have been broken, and Freeman said there needs to be continued conversations about accountability, and a better system developed to keep users accountable.

The district is getting 288 new Chromebooks, Freeman said, but they would be “under lock and key” until the school came up with a better system, possibly a use fee.

“Some of the damage we are seeing is just absurd,” Freeman said.

The district received $46,000 in grants from Pacific Education Institute. They will be used to put an irrigation system into the school gardens, buy tools, and more, and repair a shed to turn it into tool storage and partial outdoor classroom.

The board approved a remodel of the shed.

Freeman said he had submitted more grant applications in hope of building teaching pavilions and possibly purchasing a skidder to help develop property


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