- September 1, 2021
Dr. Mona Jain Middle School had a team of three students working on a mechanical engineering project for the regional and state Technology Student Association competitions.
Two of the team members were at home for e-learning while the third was on campus. The trio had to depend on Microsoft Teams to work together on a Rube Goldberg machine. The machine is made up of four parts the students developed to work together to complete a task.
Even though the students couldn’t be in the same room and faced other challenges along the way, they placed second at the state conference Feb. 22-27.
“They were all extremely bright, dedicated students,” said Michelle Roberts, a TSA adviser at Mona Jain. “Every time I would go online, they would be there working, and they would have their virtual whiteboard up where they drew designs, and they were talking about measurements and just trying to get four pieces of the Rube Goldberg machine to fit together.”
TSA teams at Mona Jain, Braden River Middle and R. Dan Nolan middle schools and Braden River High School faced several challenges this year as a result of changes made due to COVID-19, but the teams found success at state and are looking forward to nationals.
Many students placed in the top three in several categories. Mona Jain Middle School placed third overall in state for middle schools, a higher placement than last year’s fourth place.
John Frank, a TSA adviser at Braden River High School, said his students are dedicated to the club and that they take competitions seriously.
This year was the first in eight years the high school didn’t place first overall in the state. The team placed second.
Frank said students couldn’t enter as many categories as they have in the past because one of the advisers was on medical leave and because they had to work virtually.
“The kids worked on what they could, and I think the quality of work that we turned in was almost more exceptional than we’ve turned in the past historically,” Frank said.
All the teams missed out on the opportunity to compete at nationals last year due to the competition being canceled because of the pandemic.
“I think we learned a lot through regionals and state, especially with how this virtual thing is working, so I’m hoping things will go smoother as far as technical issues,” said Brittany Dunfee, an adviser at Braden River Middle School. “You hope for the best and plan for the worst. I think the students are ready to give it their all.”
Due to some TSA meetings having to be virtual as well as the competitions, the TSA programs lost students. Not all teams were able to meet in person. If they met in person, they had to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and School District of Manatee County health and safety protocols.
Dunfee said her team of 10 consisted of nine eighth graders and one seventh grader. Normally, the team has about 40 students.
Dunfee’s focused on recruiting and teaching sixth graders to help build the team for next year.
Todd Anderson, an adviser for Nolan’s team, said having only 18 students on the team was helpful because it was his first year of being an adviser, and he would have been overwhelmed with more students.
“My big challenge was pulling this off at all,” Anderson said. “Not knowing anything, I have spent a lot of time studying how TSA works, and it’s a great organization.”
For many students, TSA brought a sense of normalcy to their unprecedented school year. Even though they might not have been able to meet in person, it gave them an opportunity to connect with friends and classmates virtually.
“One thing that we noticed as advisers was the kids enjoyed when we got on Teams, and we opened it up and just let them turn on their cameras and let them talk and interact with one another,” Roberts said.
Dunfee said TSA gave her students a sense of connectedness, belonging and responsibility.
Participating in a virtual competition was difficult for the students because they had to navigate different virtual platforms and event schedules.
Dunfee’s students experienced internet, audio and video issues as they were competing.
Roberts said TSA had strict rules on written exams. She said a student’s cat jumped on his keyboard in the middle of taking his written exam, and he was kicked out of the exam. He ended up placing fourth in his event as a result.
“He was disappointed that he wasn’t one of the top three because of his exam, but he is going to get to go to nationals, so he’s excited about that part,” Roberts said.
Advisers are hopeful for their teams to be able to return to some sense of normalcy next school year.
Dunfee said Braden River Middle School will have its TSA class once again, and Roberts said Mona Jain will start offering a TSA class. The class will give students a dedicated time to focus on their projects rather than just meeting before or after school and on weekends.