The halls of John Hanson Middle School are quiet in mid-August. Even with a dozen of students scattered between two classrooms, there are sporadic bursts of conversation, the task at hand too engrossing for much chitchat.
Instead of waiting for school to begin, Hanson’s four VEX Robotics teams get a head start on their projects over the summer. The 15 students in sixth through eighth grades meet from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for three days in June and three in August. Other VEX teams around the county will likely start meeting in September — the first competition is set for November. “The more time you put into [the projects], the better they are,” said Daniel Meltsner, Hanson’s Gateway to Technology teacher and VEX coach.
The Hanson teams are used to winning. They were Maryland State champions in 2014 and won the Design Award at the 2016 state competition. The group wins, Meltsner said. A lot. He’s proud to point out his club has its own trophy case at the entrance to the school. Last year, a Hanson team traveled to Louisville, Ky., for the worlds — the largest robotics competition to date, a feat that ended up in the 2016 Guinness Worlds Records.
Sixth graders Ramon Padilla and Logan Brown are working on programming a robot with an arm that will eventually grasp a star-shaped object for VEX Robotics Competition Starstruck. Starstruck is a game played on a 12-foot-by-12-foot square surface during which machines — autonomous and drive-controlled — “throw” stars into designated zones.
“I thought it would be fun and a good opportunity,” Padilla said of participating in the VEX club. Brown agreed. “I used to do Lego Robotics and I wanted to continue with robotics,” Brown said. “If I keep it up, one day I could go somewhere with this.”
Meltsner, who refers to the summer hours spent working on projects as a “boot camp,” said his students are dedicated to the club. Only six middle schools in Maryland are invited to the world contest in April. “We’re going to try to be one of them,” he said. The students are equally focused on the future, even beyond middle school.
“These are our future engineers,” Meltsner said.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,300 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.