Wednesday, May 23, 2018

2TrainRobotics, Morris High School’s Student Robotics Team, Rules!

Members of 2Train at NYC FIRST Robotics Competition at NYC Regional (photo Gary Israel)

WEEKDAY MAGAZINE – 2TrainRobotics, Morris High School’s Student Robotics Team, Rules!

By Mark Gura
Kids growing up in the South Bronx often come to think of STEM-based careers as belonging to a world out of reach. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, subjects to which students at schools like Morris High School can have a hard time relating. Still, beginning in 1999 and currently going stronger than ever, Morris has had a student robotics team (NYC’s first), that offers students an extraordinary STEM learning opportunity. The team, 2TrainRobotics, has been a force to contend with; bursting with adolescent energy, determination, and unquenchable thirst to learn and compete.

For a student robotics team to have emerged in a hard scrabble, inner city neighborhood, and from a school that some considered at one time to be the Bronx’s “school of last resort” is truly a miraculous thing. And 2Train is a winning team; not only in competitions, but earning the unflagging admiration of its community, The Bronx.

2Train students have graduated from Morris at a rate of 100%. They’ve gone on to prestigious universities and a number are now employed in the engineering fields. 
The team influences a good number of Morris High School’s 1,600 student population who follow its activities with pride and keen interest. 

FIRST Robotics Competition
The team competes in the annual FIRST Robotics competition. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is the international organization that has helped shape Student Robotics, a 21st century hybrid of a STEM Learning, passion inducing activity, and sport of the mind for young people. 
Its website states that “Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. Every participant is eligible to apply for millions of dollars in college scholarships.”

The team has traveled to Florida; Texas; Georgia; Virginia; Canada, New Jersey; Missouri; and Rochester NY to compete and has participated in many community events, becoming a neighborhood institution. Numerous community leaders, including the Bronx Borough President, Bronx Congressman, and local Assemblymen have acknowledged the team for its contributions.

Robots AND People!
One of the team’s fortunate strengths has been the volunteer efforts of qualified and highly dedicated adults; some are Morris High School staff, for others their only connection to the school has been their work with the team.

Gary Israel, former Morris teacher, has been the Team Coordinator since its beginning. Bob Stark, manager of the Columbia University lab where the team meets and works, has been the team’s main mechanical engineering mentor for 18 years. Paul Lucian, an engineer with the Port Authority of NY & NJ has been with the team for 14 years. He is the coach out on the field during competitions. Further there is an ongoing group of Columbia students who give their time to mentor Morris students.

Another great piece of good fortune for the team has been its ongoing relationship with Columbia University. Morris High simply didn’t have a sufficiently equipped available place for the team to construct a robot. The willingness of Columbia to make their lab available was a godsend. Importantly, Columbia students mentor the Morris kids who benefit greatly by experiencing a university campus.

The team meets at the lab 5-7 times a week during the robotics season in which it plans, builds, programs and competes in public events with its robot. During the rest of the year the team prepares and develops its members ‘skills and character.

The team has received financial support from the Bloomberg Foundation, S&P Global, Columbia University, and The Port Authority of NY & NJ, as well as The NY Yankees, enabling it to travel around the country to compete.

Paying it Forward
One exceptional example of how involvement in 2Train enriches students’ lives is Reuben Bridges. Not only did his participation positively impact his success as a student, but after graduating, Reuben became a robotics teacher at a Bronx YMCA. He has remained active with 2Train, and became a team mentor himself.

2TrainRobotics plans to continue to compete around the country as ambassadors of the Bronx. But it’s also interested in expanding its reach and further developing STEM learning opportunities everywhere. 
For the past few years 2Train has reached out to schools that don’t have robotics programs of their own, including some of their students. Further, 2Train members mentor elementary and middle school teams throughout New York City.
Mark Gura is the former Director of Instructional Technology of the NYC Department of Education and currently is an adjunct professor at New York Institute of Technology and Touro College, teaching graduate Education students who focus on Instructional Technology. He blogs @ and

Click on book cover for information

Click on book cover for information
Getting Started with LEGO Robotics. Anyone who works with kids can do LEGO Robotics, a rich and highly motivating platform for important STEM Learning! (surprisingly affordable, too) This books explains it all!