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The St. Helens High School Robotic and Engineering Club, or SHREC, was all ready for regional competition this month in Wilsonville, but due to the coronavirus health crisis and classes postponed, the students are now waiting for their next opportunity.

The Chronicle spent time with the students and their instructor just before Gov. Brown ordered all K-12 schools closed to slow the spread of the virus. We wanted to share their passion of the class and what they are learning.

St. Helens High School instructor Sharon Shiel said she hopes each of the 22 students has a positive experience from the class this year.

“As mentors, all of us hope the students build their skills, their confidence, their ability to solve tough problems quickly and efficiently and work under deadlines,” she said. “We are here long hours, often they have to build and rebuild when it doesn’t work the first time, so that perseverance and not giving up, working together and supporting each other and making friends is important.”

“My reward is watching these students graduate and going off to OSU and PSU and other colleges and that they still stay connected to us,” she said. “We have a couple of mentors who are graduates of this program, so this builds us up as better people and that is rewarding to see these students’ connections and that we become a family.”

St. Helens High School sophomore and robotics club member Skyler Carlson agreed with Shield that the class gives her a family experience.

“Yes, it is like a family,” Carlson said. “I would likely never have made bonds and friendships with these people if it weren’t for this class.”

Carlson said balancing her other school classes and extra school activities with the robotics production is challenging, but rewarding.

“When it is all put together there is a great sense of accomplishment,” she said. “With other clubs, it’s mostly volunteering and you don’t always know what the outcome is. With this, all my hard work pays off and I say, ‘wow, I actually did that.”’

“I’ve always loved technical engineering, but this year, as captain of the club, I am finding new skills and qualities about myself that I didn’t realize I had before,” St. Helens senior Arthur Jerome said. “Like leading people and making sure everyone is good and working well together.”

Jerome acknowledges that building robotics is “incredibly stressful.”

‘We had only six weeks to build this robot before our first competition,” he said. “We have to make sure all the systems work, that we have everything balanced and that everyone knows what they are doing and that they are happy, so balancing and making sure we get everything done in time.”

Jerome said the competitions between schools involves different games each year.

“You can be shooting balls with your robot one year, picking up balls another year, scoring what we do and we are doing many different things,” he said. “It is different every year.”

The current robot being produced by the club is designed to pick up and store small balls and lift itself up on a bar.

Jerome said the robotics competition and the club is preparing him for his future.

“I am going into college for mechanical engineering and the robotics club has given me so much more confidence in my abilities,” he said. “I am proud of everyone on the team and for once, I am proud of myself.”

Club co-captain and Senior Evan Garrison said he’s hopeful the robotics experience helps him gain public speaking, leadership and programming skills.

“We started with a business plan,” he said. “And that has helped me build my people skills.”

Following Governor Brown’s order to close K-12 schools due to the coronavirus, Shiel expressed the team’s disappointment.

“The PNW league represents 184 teams currently, so this announcement is a huge disappointment to teams across Oregon and Washington,” she said. “The organization will do its best to re-schedule events in the upcoming weeks, but at this point there are no guarantees of if and when this will happen.”

The robotics and engineering students said they hope to regroup and

resume. They have posted the following message on the club’s Facebook page:

“We will keep family and friends posted when we have more information. We are still hard at work, and determined to be more ready than ever when events are rescheduled.”

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