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All-girl team from Queens wins robotic Lego contest

RoboGBots team members Jessica Balaram of Jamaica (l.-r.); Alexis Chen of Fresh Meadows; Peye Wong of Flushing; and Courtney Chiu of Bayside demonstrate their robot's programs. The all-girl team came in first in the First Lego League's competition. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Piece by piece, they’re building toward an academic experience their friends at school are not getting and after winning top honors at the New York City First Lego League Regional Tournament in Manhattan, the first all-girl Lego team in Fresh Meadows has a lot to be excited about.

“It was mind-blowing when we heard we won,” said Bayside 12-year-old Courtney Chiu, who joined with three others to make up the first girls’ team at RoboMindTech, at 185-10 S. Union Tnpk. “It didn’t sink in right away.”

Chiu and her teammates Peye Wong, 13, of Flushing; Jessica Balaram, 13, of Jamaica; and Alexis Chen, 9, of Fresh Meadows celebrated their victory as the first girl’s team to win out of their Fresh Meadows community center.

The team competed and placed first in a regional tournament held at the Javits Center in Manhattan the weekend of March 17. They are preparing to go on to an international tournament that includes 57 countries in St. Louis April 26- 27.

The girls were sought after and coached in Lego robotics by Veryl Greene, a retired teacher from South Jamaica. After years of working with mostly boys, Greene said she wanted an all-girls team to learn and grow together.

“I thought, ‘It’s about time we get some girls into this because we need some female future scientists,” Greene said.

As a self-proclaimed “adult fan of Legos,” Greene said it was a task she was more than happy to take on.

“I love this stuff,” Greene said. “It’s not just playing with a toy. It’s what the kids get out of it in preparing for the future.”

The RoboGbots team was assembled in September at RoboMindTech in Fresh Meadows, a robotic academy community science and technology center geared toward introducing children to academic subjects in a fun and engaging way. Program Director Dennis Chan said it took the center two months to find the four girls and just as many months for them to bond into a team.

“Their experiences here can carry on into so many other things in school and life,” Chan said. “This team is exceptional and it goes beyond robots. They’ve excelled in technical design, project research and performance.”

Wong’s mother, Leona, said she was glad to see her daughter spend after-school hours in such a positive way. She said she was shocked to see how quickly they achieved championship status.

“We didn’t expect a victory. We were actually ready to console them on the car ride home,” Leona Wong said. “But they competed and won against schools with more resources and money. We were very shocked. There was a lot of crying.”

The team built and programmed a Lego robot, which navigated its way through a pre-designated course.

“The kids can learn while feeling like they’re accomplishing something,” Greene said. “As a coach, I’ve seen a total attitude change in the girls.”

In another aspect of the tournament, the girls had to follow a theme provided by the league and conduct research and innovation on the subject. This year’s topic on food was tackled by the team’s research on the expiration dates of milk and they had to build a Lego device that could scan QR codes on milk containers to check its status.

“It’s fun because we’re actually working towards something,” Peye Wong said. “We’re doing something for the future.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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