No, I didn’t pick this topic because the candidates for President are predominantly NOT choosing kindness! My inspiration was our school’s robotics team. Lawton Academy has participated in BEST Robotics, Inc. competition at the Heartland BEST hub in Alva, Oklahoma, for eleven years now. We actually began competing at a different hub twelve years ago, but within a year we moved to Northwestern Oklahoma University (even though it was farther away) because the university faculty in charge of the competition was so very kind and helpful.
BEST Robotics competitions are different than many of the robotics competitions out there today. For most of them, the kids pay a fee for a robotics kit, and they build a robot with that kit, tweaking parts for strategy. In BEST, the kids are given a piece of plywood, a sheet of metal, some PVC, screws, four motors, six servos, and a VEX “brain” to program. (There’s a bit more, but these are the main components.) The kids have six weeks to figure out how to turn all this into a robot that can perform a set of given tasks in three minutes. There are no instructions; participants are encouraged to enlist the help of engineers in the area. Because of the steep learning curve, many teams fail the first year and don’t try again.
My team was contacted by an OKC team and asked some questions. Then they were contacted via Twitter by another middle school team. They helped both. On competition day, the kids helped both of those teams and a third new team with complications with their robots between rounds. It was great to see! First of all, how many competitions do you see in which competitors help each other to do better? Second, how many teens do you see take the initiative on their own to help others on opposing teams?
By the middle of the day, Heartland BEST staff were finding me to tell me what a wonderful kid one of our team in particular was because of his help. They wanted to meet his parents and thank them as well! Good sportsmanship has always been one of our main goals. It was nice to see the kids rewarded so heavily for their kindness. (By the way, we won 2nd place and are moving on to Regionals!)
Because I coach a variety of electives, I get to attend a variety of professional meetings for coaches of those electives. MathCounts, vocal music, robotics, band, and speech are the primary electives. It is interesting to me to see how differently the organizations function. My favorites are the robotics and speech. Everything about BEST Robotics encourages working together to promote engineering, science, and technology – not the team itself. My students have become friends with kids from all over Oklahoma. Speech competitions are like family reunions. We meet at one team’s school, where we perform our speech pieces in front of other teams’ coaches and get feed back on how we’re doing and what we can improve. All participating are encouraging every one around them to do well. The coaches actually begin to feel as if they are team mentoring the entire body of speech students. Consequently, when we get together for large speech meetings, the only consternation is in making decisions that don’t equally benefit small and large schools. It’s a very friendly atmosphere because the powers that be chose to incorporate kindness into the process. In turn, the kids choose kindness more often than not.
In a world that posts derogatory comments by the millions daily, we could learn some lessons from the people who structured BEST Robotics and the Oklahoma high schools’ speech programs. To get “kind kids,” we have to cultivate kindness. The students participating in these two activities are the same kids posting the derogatory comments. They just know not to do it when in these competitions. Does that not, then, mean that WE as a society are responsible for the abundance of negativity? Isn’t their willingness to be kind when asked to be proof enough that they just need the right conditions? Hmmm.