Private school wins robotics rookie team award

Autumn Owens aowens@empiretribune.com Twitter @aowensETnews
Robot drivers and spotters - with their robot SnapDragon - from left to right: Sarah Alcorn, Canyon Kearney, Phil Alcorn, Hayden Bridges, Caedmon Knapp and Cashlyn Kearney.

Parnassus Academy is a new private school for the gifted and talented in the Stephenville area and though the establishment is small, the academy recently won the BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) Rookie Team robotics award going up against 4A and 5A school districts.

“Other teams typically had dozens of participants and entire student bodies as support crew,” Sarah Cannady, co-founder of Parnassus, said. “We had five students and a budget of $37.12, in contrast to the often thousands of dollars from fundraising and sponsors other teams have.”

Parnassus students had to create their working robot from raw materials like sheet metal and lumber and document the engineering process in a 40-page notebook in order to compete for the rookie award.

They also had to market their robot, which included building and manning a trade show booth, developing a website, doing community outreach and presentations, interviews, a research paper and more.

“All of this had to be done from start to finish in six weeks on top of cello lessons, Latin, chemistry and all of their other school work at Parnassus,” Cannady said. “I’m so very proud of our students. I was worried this was too big a project for such a tiny group, but the kids ignored the odds and just went at it full bore.”

Students spent countless hours working for the competition staying up at the school until 11 p.m. some nights and then waking up bright and early to be back at school at 8 a.m. sharp.

“The kids came up with some engineering solutions I would have been impressed with had they come from an adult, much less a bunch of teenagers who haven’t even taken physics,” Cannady said. “They were incredibly self-sufficient. My job as academic coach was often simply to order pizza and brew tea.”

The competition was called Bet the Farm and the students’ robot - named SnapDragon - was designed to herd pigs; pick tomatoes, corn and lettuce; turn on a water faucet; and plant seeds in under three minutes.

“At the end of the contest the students had to immediately disassemble ‘Snappy’ and remove its cortex and motors to return to the BEST coordinator,” Cannady said. “It sounds silly, but after all those weeks of laboring over the bot, I think for some students it was a bit like saying goodbye to the prize steer they’d raised from a bottle baby. I saw more than one of the kids get a bit teary at Snappy’s demise.”

Parnassus Academy is currently accepting applications for the Spring 2017 semester and for more information visit www.parnassus.academy.