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Francis Lewis High transformed into futuristic battlefield

Huddled around their robot, a square contraption with metal arms that seemed to scurry across the gym floor, members of the Francis Lewis High School robotics team were hard at work last week making last-minute adjustments before they sent their creation to the soccer field.

“OK, I’ve got the board, let’s go,” Francis Lewis junior Xitlali Juarez said of an impressive control panel members made that told their robot when to kick and run — or, perhaps more accurately, scuttle.

The members leaned over the robot that took them countless hours to create and carried it into the arena at the Francis Lewis HS gymnasium during the school’s off-season robotics scrimmage Saturday.

“Today is a lot of fun, and we’re so much better this time around than ´╗┐in the past season,” Francis Lewis senior Daniel Krastev said of his robotics team.

Saturday was the first time Francis Lewis, in conjunction with New York City FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — held the event, which was attended by 20 robotics teams from schools throughout the city. Borough schools at the event in Fresh Meadows included the Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates, Townsend Harris HS in Flushing and Jamaica High School.

During the “Big Apple Breakaway Scrimmage” at Francis Lewis, the teams controlled their robots in what looked like a futuristic soccer game. The robots were expected to kick balls into the goal and bonus points were given if the teams could make their robots climb a small tower on the field at the end of the game. The teams had built the robot for FIRST’s competition last year in Manhattan, where the team from Mary Louis Academy placed first.

“It was a gigantic shock because it was the first year we had a robotics team,” said Vanessa Ronan, captain of Mary Louis’ team. “We had no idea what we were in for. It was incredible.”

Students and teachers praised the robotics clubs, which they said gave pupils the chance to explore engineering.

“Because of this, I got inspired to be a mechanical engineer,” said Krastev, who lives in Ridgewood. “It teaches you innovation and how to work together. It has made a huge impact on my life.”

Vinod Lala, a science teacher at Mary Louis who directs their robotics team, also praised the robotics program.

“They become a lot more confident with using tools and finding solutions to problems,” Lala said. “A lot of them will be quiet and shy when they start and they’ll grow into real leaders.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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