US and Israeli students bond through robotics teams

When the Illinois’ District 113 high school robotics team and the Yerucham Israel robotics team first met via Skype back in September, they never would have imagined that both would make it to the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. Yet that is exactly what happened last week when both teams competed at the Edward Jones Dome in the heart of the city.

Upon learning their teams would be in the same city, Israeli team coach Reuven Stahl of Yerucham invited District 113 to join them for a kosher meal. What ensued was a genuinely authentic and personal experience as students, mentors and parents spent hours engaging in conversation to deepen their already-established connection.

Robotics challenge

Highland Park/Deerfield and Yerucham robotics teams meet in St. Louis.

The teams then brainstormed how to continue to grow this friendship and how they could help support each other during future seasons. Ideas included: creating a summer Arduino challenge that both teams would work on solving; brainstorming to help problem-solve during next year’s season; communicating within a Facebook group and more. Both teams expressed interest in future opportunities to spend time together either in Israel or in the U.S.

“We are hoping to create an Israeli [First Tech Challenge] team and bring this Israeli FTC team to Chicago to visit and compete,” District 113 coach Jonathan Weiland said.

The District 113 robotics team, comprised of teams from both Highland Park and Deerfield High School, sent two teams to the World Championships to compete in the FTC: Beastie Bots, who were the Illinois State Champions in 2014, and Robot to the Knee – both from HPHS.

Robot to the Knee consists of eight students: Sam Ephraim, Max Grosshandler, Max Lowery, Daniel Mouscher, Kyle Rabin, Alec Ratnaswamy, Aaron Retsky and Pia Sanpitak. They have been mentored by parent volunteer Patiant Sanpitak. This year's Beastie Bots has six members who are juniors and seniors: Jacob Burroughs, Shira Shartiag, Sam Chase, Rory Miller, Ben Rubin and Justin Garfinkle. They have been mentored by a number of parent volunteers with on-site support at the competition by Michael Shartiag, who has provided mentoring and support to the Beastie Bots for the past four years. Other Highland Park robotics members, Max Mesirow, Michael Rascati, Barrett Turnoy and AJ Zasky assisted the team at the World Championships.

Yerucham, Highland Park’s Sister City, has one large FRC team comprised of 26 students from three different high schools. Yerucham is a growing city in the Negev with a diverse population of about 9,500 residents. The leaders of the robotics program there said that the city has some economic challenges but that there is strong support behind and interest in the robotics team. About 30 percent of the students participate in this activity which offers them the opportunity to learn computer programming, design and mechanics as well as the skills associated with the

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