This week is Texas Public Schools Week and judging by the recent achievements of Galveston ISD VEX Robotics teams, there’s a lot to celebrate.

For the fourth year in a row, teams from GISD are eligible for the national and world championships. Robotics programs, available at all levels in GISD schools, teach valuable lessons in engineering, computer science, creativity and teamwork.

Two teams from Ball High recently won the South Texas VEX Robotics Competition at Clear Falls High School with an Austin Middle School Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Magnet team placing 16th out of a field of 65 with only six middle school teams. The Austin team’s overall performance earned them the coveted Judges Award. A Ball High team won the Robot Skills Award and the Excellence Award, the most prestigious trophy at the competition.

“My heart just started racing,” said seventh grade student Zachary Winstryg about earning the Judges Award. “It was really exciting to place so high at regionals. I really didn’t know I would make it that high in the rankings.”

The VEX Robotics Competition is the world’s fastest growing competitive robotics program for elementary, middle, high schools and colleges around the world. More than 9,000 teams from 26 countries participate in more than 400 VEX Robotics events worldwide.

“They love what they do and students tell me that they plan on becoming engineers when they get out of college,” said Glen Winstryg, VEX Robotics teacher and sponsor, and Zach’s dad. “That’s the ultimate goal of the whole robotics program — we want to develop engineers, computer scientists and professionals in those growing fields. If we can help develop an interest, that’s what we want to do.”

Students must build their robots out of steel or aluminum pieces, wiring, elastic bands and various electronic pieces. They program the robots to maneuver in a 12X12 foot playing field, scoring points for placing balls of different sizes in a goal area and completing various other challenges.

With the help of a federal grant, Morgan Elementary School of Science and Engineering was able to start a robotics class using Lego products, which then moves toward the more complex VEX robotics programs at Austin and Ball High. The fifth grade robotics club at Austin has its most members yet in five years of existence. Ball High’s club hopes to grow and showcase the programs available at local public schools.

“The top teams at competition are public schools, so obviously we can compete with against anything else other teams can do,” said Glen Winstryg. “A lot of other teams have robotics classes every day, but we meet only twice a week. The children just have a desire to do well.”

The VEX Robotics U.S. Open in Omaha, Nebraska, will take place the first week in April. The teams headed north are in need of donations for the trip. Those interested in helping out can contact Mr. Winstryg, or 402-203-0960.

Johnston Farrow is the communications specialist for Galveston ISD.

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