Luis Hanks-Lathrop runs Ranger, the Wallowa County alternative education class’ robot funded by the Oregon Community Foundation and entered in a contest in Hermiston in February. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
ENTERPRISE — A grant from the Oregon Community Foundation is helping the Wallowa County alternative high school to program and build robots.
Alternative Education Teacher Maria Weer said a three-year grant was awarded to 12 Wallowa County youth programs. The county was one of 14 winners out of 108 applicants.
Building Healthy Families, the community organization where the alternative high school is housed, wrote the grant that identified K-12 programs that are now benefitting from the grant funding, Weer said.
The robot, dubbed “Ranger,” can move forward and backward with commands issued from a control device on a laptop. Members of the class traveled to Hermiston Feb. 15 to test “Ranger” against robots from other schools.
Class Assistant Michael Cooler said the competition with teams from Eastern Oregon had the basic objective for their robots to push blocks into a designated scoring area.
“Some more advanced robots had a way to raise an arm and hang from a bar,” Cooler said. “The kids learn engineering of the robot itself and skills for cobbling together a robot out of metal parts. The goal is to learn programming and get the computer to communicate with the robot to move and perform.”
Zach Walters, a student planning to study engineering said, “It’s just cool to have made a robot.”
“You can get points for looks - you can even put a lift on it,” Jake Eaves added.
The students worked with a starter kit while some of the others in the competition had more advanced robots.
“A lot of teams had been at it a while and were good at constructing and getting the computer to talk to it,” Cooler said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, but we felt pretty happy about it.”
The Wallowa County team placed 11th out of 21 teams.
“One of the nice things was that we participated in five rounds with five different drivers who got to experience competition,” Cooler said.
“We learned a lot by watching,” Eaves said.
Cooler said the kids are also judged based on their interest in the project.
“If you have team spirit better you do better in judging categories,” he said.
This year, the alternative education program was expanded to include students from Joseph. Weer said the program has bloomed from an average of nine to serving 21 students this year.
The graduation requirements are aligned with state standards, and graduates earn an alternative education diploma.
“We serve kids that learn differently,” Weer said. In the past five years, seven students have gone on to college and she sees that number increasing.