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Heritage robotics reduces cafeteria Styrofoam

Heritage Robotics Team members conferred with Marty Tatara, back from left, Principal Dr. Georgina Nelson and Mayor Troy Trulock. Rachel Gibbs, far right, sponsors the team. CONTRIBUTED
Heritage Robotics Team members conferred with Marty Tatara, back from left, Principal Dr. Georgina Nelson and Mayor Troy Trulock. Rachel Gibbs, far right, sponsors the team. CONTRIBUTED

MADISON – Talk about doing your homework … Heritage Elementary School’s Robotics Team won for research and overall excellence at the Alabama FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Championship.

“We received the Overall Best Project award at our qualifier and then received first place in research at the state competition,” sponsor and gifted specialist Rachel Gibbs said.

Team members are fifth-graders Evelyn Coon, Patrick Demirjian, Brett Hodges, Brody Millsaps, Shaivi Pandey, Vrinda Ram and sixth-grader Max Shah.

FIRST abbreviates ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

LEGO Robotics competition is divided into areas for “Project,” “Robot” and “Core Values.” “Our team received very high marks in all three areas and achieved the highest possible scoring of exemplary in every aspect for Project,” Gibbs said.

“Trash Trek” was this year’s project. Heritage had to devise “an innovative solution to produce less trash or improve handling our trash,” Gibbs said. They talked at length with experts at Covanta Waste to Energy Plant and used Internet resources.

“Our team focused on Styrofoam trays in our lunchroom,” Gibbs said. “It takes 300 years for this material to decompose. Styrofoam gives out a harmful chemical when scratched.”

Students shared their findings Heritage’s cafeteria manager; Marty Tatara, Child Nutrition Program Supervisor for Madison City Schools; administrators; Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler and Mayor Troy Trulock.

Searching for an alternative product to Styrofoam, they discovered a sugar cane tray, more environmentally safe and affordable. They ordered enough trays for a test trial for one day’s lunch at Heritage.

“Team members walked the lunchroom with notepads to get feedback from students,” Gibbs said. Tatara and Trulock attended the test trial “and were extremely impressed with our students.”

As a result, Tatara will attempt to place sugar cane trays on MCS’ vendor list. “Ms. Tatara already has eliminated Styrofoam cups from all MCS lunchrooms,” Gibbs said.

As a state nutrition board member, Tatara will present the innovation to the entire state, possibly eliminating Styrofoam in Alabama schools.

The Heritage team’s extensive background work, surveys and discussions with knowledgeable professionals led to first place in the Research area, Gibbs said.

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