by Marina Budrys | HS Faculty and GrandFriends’ Day Event Coordinator
On the night before the Los Altos campus GrandFriends Day, I woke up many times. I’m no diagnosed insomniac but I definitely struggle to sleep when big events or new responsibilities are on the horizon. To my sleep-deprived 3AM self, welcoming 80 guests to our campus after a two year hiatus suddenly seemed totally crazy. I checked the weather and saw, to my dismay, that rain was predicted. How had I not thought of a contingency plan for this?
Fast forward a few hours, several raindrops fell. And that was it. Guests snacked on scones and croissants from Midwife and the Baker. Introductions were made. Conversations started. What followed was a lovely coming together of young and old. Generations met one another on the playground, in a circle, partnering for mathematical equations, and creating props for a play. I peaked over the nursery fence and saw GrandFriends holding hands with little ones, singing. My heart filled. What a special and unique experience this was. What an expression of what our community is. The following morning in Mountain View was just as special. GrandFriends reflected on their experiences being in the classroom. Some of their observations included the words joy, empowered, community, respect, super, and wisdom.
We are more than individual faculty, student, and parent. We are an extension of every community of which we are a part. Inviting and hosting the important roots and branches of our community allowed me to realize that this school is an ever shifting and living organism. Instead of a rigid structure, it reflects and is what the community is. My favorite quote from Rudolf Steiner is an oft used one but also appropriate for reflecting on this moment: “A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.”
WSP hosted a FIRST® Tech Robotics Qualifying Tournament on the Mountain View campus earlier this month. The STEM group that convenes the event is named First—but the event was a first in other ways, too: until now, WSP had never hosted a public tournament before. (Shout out to WSP senior and Walbots captain Lysander Schmidt and faculty team-sponsor Dr. Lea Fredrickson for spearheading!)
By 8:15 AM on a chilly Saturday morning, competitors from 16 local middle schools had arrived. As the hosting robotics team, WSP’s own Walbots joined nearly 80 other WSP volunteers to serve as judges, referees, scorekeepers, videographers, commentators, and runners, to name just a few of the many volunteer roles. High school senior Zoe Wheatonfox helped kick off the competition with a gorgeous rendition of the national anthem.
Here are three things I, and many other participants, didn’t expect to see at a robotics tournament:
1. Chickens on the loose We’re guessing it was the first time many of the 320 participants had seen a chicken at a robotics tournament. “Pepper” and “Turbo” were roaming the garden as students wearing safety goggles would stop on their way to and from the competition hall (aka the Eurythmy room) to exclaim, “Is that a chicken?!”
Yes. At WSP, chickens roam alongside Silicon Valley’s next generation of engineers. No big deal.
Students took breaks not only to sit in the garden and hold the chickens but also jump on tree stumps, play tetherball or ping pong, and enjoy the rope swings hanging from a nearby tree.
“It was wonderful to see the students from the other teams getting so much genuine joy from our campus,” said WSP parent (and lead scorekeeper) Brent Ingler. “Witnessing their excitement over things that we, as a school, may otherwise take for granted was heartwarming.”
2. “A well-oiled robot” That’s how a visiting robotics team mentor who’s attended these tournaments for years described this event. Or as a student participant said, “The whole event had a fun, chill, vibe and was so much fun.”
Thank the incredible flow within the WSP team for that.
“Every problem that came up, we actually resolved very efficiently, and that’s what made it overall a successful event,” said Lysander. “In our community, there are a lot of people with ingenuity and initiative. We had so many volunteers who could do whatever was needed.”
To allow spectators to cheer on their teams, despite COVID restrictions on numbers of attendees, all 9 hours of the event were live-streamed by a crew of WSP students led by Pierre Laurent, WSP’s School Administrator. (Catch a few highlights of their footage here.)
3. Real-time innovation Competitors spent the day troubleshooting, tweaking, and adjusting their robots. The team “pits” looked like chaotic workshops, with students darting in and out.
WSP parent and event judge Neil Overmon, who designs systems for Level 4 self-driving trucks, was inspired. “I was genuinely impressed with the student competitors,” he said. “They were working with concepts that I don’t always see even at the professional level. I was inspired to brush up on a few topics when I went home that night!”
Watching the teams work was also a master class in problem solving and collaboration.
“What you think is going to happen and what actually happens a lot of times is not the same,” said WSP 11th grader and Walbots team member Stephen Lee. “That’s applicable not just in a robotics club but also in real life.”
He also saw the value of standing by your vision. “If you want to present ideas to people who don’t think it’s going to work, you just do it.”
Interested in joining or supporting the Walbots Robotics Club at WSP?
“The club is open to anyone who is interested,” says Lysander. “At its core, it’s just a group of people doing some things. If you want to animate something, that’s robotics. If you want to work on finances, you can do that in robotics. If you want to make a website, draw some art, or even design clothing, it’s all part of what we do.
It’s also truly student-driven. As WSP parent and longtime Walbots supporter Christopher Schmidt explains, “we’re quite different from a lot of FIRST Tech Challenge schools. We draw the line. Neither Dr. Fredrickson nor I ever tell the students what the decisions are going to be in building the robot. Also, at our school, we have the right balance of time commitment. At our school, the people in the robotics club are also the people who are doing theater and track. It doesn’t need to take over your whole life. And that makes it even more fun.”
The club is always looking for sponsorship and support. Reach out to high school faculty sponsor Dr. Fredrickson or Team Captain Lysander Schmidt for more information.
16 local schools competed in a FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament at our beautiful campus in Mountain View earlier this month. For many teams, this was one of the first in-person competitions since the start of COVID.
FIRST Tech Challenge teams are composed of students from grades 7 – 12. They are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format. Each team is guided by adult coaches and mentors from their school or community as they develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles, while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and working as a team.
The winning alliance from Saturday’s event was captained by team 12635, “Kuriosity Robotics” a community affiliate team, with their alliance partner from team 13216 “Deja Vu” from Santa Clara High School & 49ers STEM Leadership Institute (SLI). A full list of the award recipients can be found online.
As a host team, our robotics team, the Walbots, did not compete. They joined forces with 78 other volunteers who gave up their Saturday to make the event possible. Parents, students, alumni, faculty, staff, of the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, along with other community members served as judges, inspectors, scorekeepers, referees and more!
FIRST’s ethos of “Gracious Professionalism and Collaboration” was evident throughout the event. Participants from the 16 teams enjoyed the school’s campus, especially the massive garden. They took breaks from working on their robots to hold chickens, jump on tree stumps, play football, tetherball, or ping pong, and enjoy the rope swings hanging from a nearby tree. One participant said, “The whole event had a fun, chill, vibe and was so much fun.”
Due to covid, there have been a reduced number of in-person tournaments, and a limited number of teams permitted at the events. While teams are able to compete up to three times to attempt to earn a spot at the NorCal Regional Championships, this year many teams have been limited to just one in-person event, if at all. This inspired Walbots Team Captain Lysander Schmidt and Team Sponsor Dr. Lea Fredrickson to approach WSP with the idea of the school hosting, not just the school’s first robotics tournament but, their first tournament of any kind on their Mountain View campus. At the end of the day, the joy of this major accomplishment was emanating from all of the parent, teacher, student, and administrative volunteers; and of course the Walbots!