The microcosm of today

One of the teachers at my school sent an email to everyone this morning that contained an essay he had written after a particularly noteworthy day for himself and for the students on his robotics team. I post it here with permission. I think it is a beautiful example of a teacher who genuinely “gets it” and a team of great kids who don’t fit the stereotype I hear so many teachers describing when they talk about teenage students.
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The Microcosm of Today by Luis Mendoza

Today (2/21/11 – A day that we weren’t supposed to be at school)…

Today I saw a group of students grow more in one day than in any other day before it.
Today was not unprecedented, but it was not expected, and it was pleasantly received.

Today was day 41. Since January 8th, the day that kicked off the FIRST Robotics Competition Season 44 days ago, the Robotics Club has taken only 3 days off – working diligently to design, program, and build a competitive robot, a competitive website, a competitive 3D computer design, and even a competitive spirit brand. They didn’t stop during the snow days; they were designing and planning from home.

Today wasn’t the grand finale of a smooth crescendo. Throughout these past few weeks, they have faced major engineering problems – some from innocently overlooked details, others painfully unwelcomed – overcoming, nevertheless, as engineers often do in the real world. These past few weeks, the engineering lab in the first floor, now affectionately called “The Dungeon,” was turned into a real-life laboratory of critical thinking and problem solving more so than nearly any high school, or perhaps even some colleges, can offer.

Today, however, began intensifying since last week. In the final week of the robot building phase, as they were reaching their final reserves of energy, the teachers of the first floor came through with home cooked meals for the students replenishing more than their physical energy. As the students gathered around the table for Saturday night’s dinner, after thoroughly impressing our main sponsor that afternoon, they mentioned how they felt so loved by the teachers.

Oh but today…..

Today they came into The Dungeon before school to prepare for today, the last day of work before shipping to competition. During lunch, they displayed their robot to the entire school; the fruit of their labor, both intellectual and tangible. They felt like super stars showcasing the robot, the scoring grid, the artistic crate, all of their work. They had previously oblivious students from all floors interested in them and their project. By noon, they must have felt like varsity athletes on game day at a regular high school.

By 3pm they must have felt like college athletes after receiving special recognition from StuCo and invitations to an after school function – the perks of local stardom. And by 4pm, today became what I can only equate to a quasi Super Bowl media day when the Media Tech interns came to interview the team – not the individuals of the team, but a team of students at once, riding the energy wave of the magic of today – laughing, finishing each other sentences of candid responses, conveying the camaraderie that has coalesced after so much time spent together in the lab. After that interview, one which even the interviewers enjoyed, the robotics students could not have been flying any higher.

Today was the day that I saw them grow more than any other day. By 8pm today they discovered that the primary computer, a very unique piece of hardware, is irreparably damaged. Without this piece, a fully equipped and fully wired robot cannot move an inch on command, rendering it useless for competition.

Today they went from the highest high to the most dramatically disappointing low. With the clock hitting midnight, the cease-work deadline for all teams across the world, they had to pack up, in a beautiful crate, an awesome robot that cannot move. Yet.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Within minutes of processing the emotional swing, they began to brainstorm ideas to resolve this momentous set-back. Not once did I hear a student say anything about giving up. They’ve created a list of potential solutions, good enough to keep alive the hope of implementing their solution (still to be determined) within hours of arriving at the competition site on April 7th.

Today they chose to respond to this terribly deflating set-back with intrepidity, optimism, and resolve – but the robot’s computer is still damaged.

Today, what would have been a grand finale to weeks of hard work in a magical day of recognition for the students, turned out to be a microcosm of adult life. A lesson well learned in preparing for the expected, trying to prepare for the unexpected, and responding maturely to adversity because it’s the right thing to do.

Today I saw the students grow more than any other day by the decision they have made – a decision that directly or indirectly came from a variety of influences, including the strong character building that they have received from you, their teachers.

Today they learned that after everything that happened, today was just another day.

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