‘The Reauxbots’ put Pointe Coupee Catholic High on the map

They call themselves “The Reauxbots,” and among the six teenagers, there could very well be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Bill Nye the Science Guy.

But for now they’re students at Catholic High of Pointe Coupee who, in three years, have amassed 15 competitive awards and accolades in robotics and engineering competitions. And in July, the team is heading to Hawaii to compete in the International VEX Summer Games for robotics.

“They’ve gotten better each year,” said Peter Goodman, the high school’s robotics teacher and coach of The Reauxbots. “This year, we had goals set. One of the kids said he wanted to go to the (VEX world competition) before he graduated, and we accomplished it all.”

That student was Ian Landry, a junior from New Roads and one of the founding members of the school’s robotics team.

Landry said he hopes to one day become a biomedical engineer specializing in medical prosthesis.

“We’re pretty good at what we do,” Landry said. “It’s a good feeling knowing you’re not only one of the best teams but you’re a target during competitions. This can all be very competitive.”

The seed that would become The Reauxbots was planted five years ago when the school introduced robotics as an extracurricular activity for its seventh- and eighth-grade students.

A high school robotics team was created under Goodman’s leadership in 2012 when Catholic of Pointe Coupee became one of the first schools to participate in a federal grant awarded to Red Stick Robotics, a Louisiana program that helps teach kindergarten through 12th-grade students math and science. The program was created to attract VEX Robotics competitions to the Louisiana.

According to the company’s website, VEX Robotics is a worldwide provider of educational and competitive robotic tournaments to schools and universities. In the 2013-2014 school year, more than 10,100 teams from 33 countries participated in more than 750 competitions the company hosted, the website says.

Goodman said VEX issues annual competition rules, challenging teams to build small robots that can compete in arena-type games for tournament-style competitions.

For the 2013-14 year, Goodman said teams were tasked with constructing and programming robots that could pick up plastic balls and drop them into plastic cylinders.

Austin David, a CHSPC sophomore from New Roads, said the team dedicated time after school each day in October to begin work on its robot in preparation for the 2014 tournament season.

David, who hopes to go into politics or possibly become a lawyer, said being a member of the robotics team is teaching him the problem-solving skills and teamwork mentality he’ll benefit from later.

“Robotics is about making something from a bunch of bits and pieces,” David said. “I couldn’t do that by myself. We thought of the design. We bounced ideas off each other. Imagination was a huge part of it. I know for a fact there are many people who wouldn’t be able to do it.”

The first VEX tournaments in Louisiana were in Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in 2012. The Reauxbots took home a third-place trophy and two first-place wins that year.

The following year, the CHSPC team participated in tournaments in Ruston, New Orleans, Mississippi and the VEX National Competition in Nebraska. The team earned a programming award and were crowned champions in local tournaments in January and March 2013.

The 2014 competitive season is when the team achieved its most accomplishments thus far, which included winning the state’s robotics tournament and qualifying for the VEX World Championship in California. The group took a road trip to California in April to compete in the world competition, where the team finished in 177th place in Robot Skills out of the 430 teams that competed in the high school division.

At the tournaments this year, teams were put into pairs to compete in games within their respective divisions and use their robots in a defense and strategy game that looks very similar to basketball — but with small robots.

The teams that scored the most points in a match advanced in the tournament brackets until, finally, a winner was crowned.

“A big part of this is going out during tournaments and talking to other teams and networking,” Goodman said. “You have to figure out who can help you win.”

As the CHSPC team prepares to compete on an international level in Hawaii, Principal Colleen Caillet said the kids have already accomplished more than anyone ever expected of them.

Saying she’s proud of them would be an understatement, she said.

“Until I attended my first match, I never realized what it was,” Caillet said. “It encompasses so much. And I see what it has done for these kids.”