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Education / Robotics / Youth

Watch Central High School’s robotics team as they compete at the FIRST World Championship competition

Philly's RoboLancers are competing this week in Houston against about 600 other teams.

Central High School's RoboLancers winning the FIRST Impact Award. (Courtesy photo)
Update: Scroll to the end of this article to find out the outcome of the RoboLancers' competition. (4/24/23, 5:45 p.m.)

Central High School has sent 24 teenagers from its student robotics team, the RoboLancers, to Houston this week for the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

The team, in its 25th season, is heading south after winning the FIRST Impact Award at the Mid-Atlantic District Championship at Lehigh University earlier this month, which qualified them for the World Championship. The Impact Award required students to prepare an essay, short answer questions and a presentation about why their team aligns with FIRST’s mission to inspire young people to learn about STEM and be leaders in the field.

RoboLancers’ essay and presentation was based on the work they do at Central High School, but also on the work they do through the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition, which the team founded in 2016.

“Our team’s mission is to inspire and prepare the next generation of STEM leaders in Philadelphia,” coach Michael Johnson said. “We do that both through the technical work of designing, building [and] coding the robots here at Central, but also through growing access and opportunity for other students at other schools around the city to have the same opportunity in robotics.”

The Philadelphia Robotics Coalition currently supports 143 FIRST registered teams and about 40 other teams in grades K-12 across the School District of Philadelphia. The Coalition helps schools secure funding for their teams, train coaches and run workshops. The Central High School students are involved with this work by mentoring other teams and helping run workshops and competitions. FIRST emphasizes collaboration, especially collaboration between people from different teams, Johnson said.

“So our work across the city is part of that, our students end up more confident technicians, through their work, mentoring and teaching. And tying back to what I said before about teamwork and project management and communication,” Johnson said. “The opportunity to be working with, collaborating with, a bunch of different teams in a bunch of different places with a bunch of different experiences coming in, makes our students at Central stronger teachers, stronger leaders, stronger communicators.”

Leading up to the world competition — which runs today through Saturday — the team had 10 weeks at the beginning of 2023 to prepare for this year’s game challenge, think of strategies and build their robot. They first competed at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in March and Bensalem High School at the beginning of April at the district level. The team won the district Impact Award at that first competition and qualified for the district championship at Lehigh, where they won the regional Impact award.

Central High School sophomore Lily Sand is also a finalist for the Dean’s List Award, which goes to an individual student who exemplifies FIRST’s mission. Sand is one of four finalists from the Mid-Atlantic region who is up for the award.

The RoboLancers haven’t qualified for the world championship since 2018, so every student going will be there for the first time, the coach said. To help pay for this trip, the team is currently accepting donations. Overall, Johnson said he is excited that the team is being recognized for their hard work, specifically the work they’ve done to build up the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition and support other schools in Philly.

“Fingers crossed, we win the impact award on the world stage,” Johnson said. “But even if we don’t, the impact that we are having in Philadelphia is really tangible to see the energy and enthusiasm from so many students now involved in robotics at their schools across the city.”

Folks interested in watching various parts of the four-day competition can do so with the link below.

Stream the competition


Update: The RoboLancers won the 2023 Championship FIRST Impact Award at the Houston Championships for their STEM education work within their own school and with the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition. They beat 84 other regional winners and are now members of the FIRST Hall of Fame.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: FIRST Robotics / School District of Philadelphia

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