Robotics Team Propels Marquez Toward the Future

The award-winning team
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Glaser

The After-School Program Has Energized the School, According to Teachers, Parents and Kids

By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer

The classic 1982 science-fiction movie “Blade Runner” took place in early November of 2019. And while that far-flung future has suddenly become a part of the collective past, at Marquez Charter Elementary School, the future is ongoing, thanks to the Marquez Knolls-based school’s nascent, award-winning, ’bot-building Robotics Team.

Founded in the 2018-19 school year and comprised of fourth- and fifth-graders, in-house teachers Akiko Arevalo, Clare Gardner and Julie Yoshida have been overseeing Marquez’s Robotics Team.

The 18 students currently enrolled in the elementary school program learn to build and modify robots from a Lego-like kit of robot parts, Arevalo explained to the Palisadian-Post. This year’s crop of makers have been creating ’bots that can pick up and transport modular pieces.

What’s worth noting is that Arevalo and Gardner, who have kids of their own, volunteer their free time unpaid to mentor in the after-school program. Arevalo said that she commutes to the Palisades for work each weekday from her residence in Chatsworth, and spending the extra hours on Wednesdays and Fridays after school has been as satisfying for her as for the children.

Photo by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

“It’s very rewarding to see these kids apply what they are learning,” Arevalo said.

The program consists of three co-ed teams labeled Marquez Blue, Marquez Red and Marquez Yellow, and they compete in the Los Angeles Unified School District Local District West competitions.

Adult observers of the elementary school program say they are impressed with the early results.

“Given that our team was just developed last year and we have only competed in two competitions out of four this year, I believe Marquez has done remarkably well,” said Marquez parent Jennifer Glaser, who does not have a child on the team but is a big champion of the group.

So far, the team is off to a solid start this year in the LAUSD District West League competition, which was held at Mark Twain Middle School on October 7, during which Marquez ranked first, second and third among the 20 teams that competed.

In early November, Marquez competed in the LAUSD West VEX IQ League. The team Red placed second, Blue placed fourth and Yellow placed fifth. Overall standings are still pending, Glaser said.

Photo by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Arevalo told the Post that last year, her automaton-makers made it to the national level, and she and her kids got to travel to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to compete.

For the children involved, participating in the program has been priceless for their self-esteem.

“We got inspiration from the other teams that have done it before,” fourth-grader Laleh Pashmforoush said. “First, we built the robot. Sometimes you have to modify the robot so that it can work better or if it doesn’t meet the limits set by the competition. Then we practice driving the robot. Other team members program and do research.”

The robotics after-school program essentially combines programming, engineering, building and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills.

Lilou Hashemi, who is working with fellow fourth-grader Amelia Halpin, has been researching how robots can help rid the ocean of garbage.

“I enjoy robotics because it teaches you about teamwork, engineering, coding, and it’s just really fun to hang out with your friends, and learn new stuff about robots,” fifth-grader Logan Liu said. “I also learned lots from the STEM Research Project—about coral reefs and marine robots.”

And while the kids at Marquez aren’t exactly building Replicants—or even Daleks—Benjamin Agabra, who, as a fifth-grader, constitutes another second-year member of the Robotics team, said that the program goes beyond engineering 101 and may actually have a lot more in common with athletics than meets the eye.

“Robotics isn’t just about robots, it’s about teamwork and how you should never let your team down,” Agabra said.