Fourth-graders learn robotics and racism

Where would kids competing in a fourth-grade robotics competition learn racism and bigotry?

It happened to the Pleasant Run Panther Bots, who had just won the competition near Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Star reports. Two on the team are African-American, three are Latino.

“For the most part, the robotics world is kind of a white world,” Lisa Hopper, the team’s coach and a Pleasant Run second-grade teacher, tells columnist Suzette Hackney. “They’re just not used to seeing a team like our kids. And they see us and they think we’re not going to be competition. Then we’re in first place the whole day and they can’t take it.”

Parents and students were waiting in the parking lot after the competition. Parents and other fourth-graders were waiting in the school’s parking lot to tell the team to “Go back to Mexico.”

Yet, there is another part to this story, a pure beauty that exists because the Pleasant Run students refused to allow those ugly words to crush them. In fact, they’ve been emboldened by the hate. Three weeks after the incident, the Panther Bots won the Create Award — for best robot design and engineering — at the state championships, which qualified them for the Vex IQ World Championship next month in Louisville. They will compete with students from all over the world.

And they’ll walk in with confidence.

“They yelled out rude comments, and I think that they can talk all they want because at the end we’re still going to Worlds,” 10-year-old team leader Elijah Goodwin told me this week. “It’s not going to affect us at all. I’m not surprised because I’m used to this kind of behavior. When you have a really good team, people will treat you this way. And we do have a pretty good team.”

Hopper said she and her co-coach, after learning of the incident in Plainfield, gathered the team to see how they were handling it. They are resilient kids. They’re focused. They refuse to be victims.

“I was afraid they would let it get in their heads and wig them out,” Hopper said. “We sat down and talked to our kids, and obviously we let them share their feelings. They were on top of it already. They said: ‘We know they are mean. We know they were jealous. We’re not going to let it bother us.’ One of our guys said ‘to take stuff like that and let it make you stronger.’”

A few months ago, the members of the team knew nothing about robotics, Hackney says. But 10-students with potential were selected to try out for a robotics team that was being created thanks to a grant.

Related: Delano kicks off anti-racism campaign with candlelight vigil (Star Tribune)

  • wjc

    As a nation, we are screwed. As individuals, there is still some hope. Good going, Pleasant Run Panther Bots.

  • Guest

    Looks like the “deploreables” are will make their appearance anywhere. Good job Pleasant Run Panther Bots.

  • MrE85

    Ugh. The Pleasant Run kids are from my old neighborhood. Literally — the school is just 5 blocks from where I went to high school. Unfortunately, some of the racists are from my old neighborhood, too. Not that comes as any surprise to me — it was there when I was a 4th grader, too.

    Good luck, Pleasant Run Panther Bots! I’ll be cheering for you. But if the kids from Indianapolis don’t win the top world prize, wouldn’t it be great if a Mexican team did?

  • MikeB

    For a long time I was under the mistaken impression that over time racist attitudes like shown above would decline. You’d think these young parents would know better. But their mommies and daddies were bigots, so they want to keep the tradition going.

  • PaulK

    Great to see that their Go Fund Me is fully funded, and then some.

  • Ben

    The saddest part to me is how the kids were like, yeah, whatever, happens all the time, we’re used to it. It’s the same reaction that immigrants and minorities had after the election, they weren’t surprised. These ugly scenes pop up here and there, and we’re forced to see them, but most of the time the majority of us just turn a blind eye.

    • joetron2030

      Well, as someone who’s grown up with the similar comments thrown at them, there’s not much you can do. You can’t fight everyone. Yelling back does nothing. It’s a sad fact of life that you learn early on that you just have to ignore it and move on otherwise it will eat you up from the inside and make your life an ongoing misery.

  • kennedy

    Kudos to the coaches who provide support for this team. It seems they took a group of good kids and empowered them to do something outside of their past experience (robotics) while combining their strength to resist obstacles with which they are familiar (racism).

  • Mike Worcester

    As in so many instances like these, someone knows who said what. They might have been standing right next to them. They might even know them personally. And yet has anyone said anything? That concerns me also.

  • AmiSchwab

    parents and kids waiting in the parking lot to say things like that. kids will copy their parents. parents like these are the kind who brought us trump. decency and understanding mean nothing now a days

  • lindblomeagles

    Big congrats to the winning Robotics’ Team. As for the racists out there — like I said since President Obama was elected in 2008, A LOT OF PEOPLE, feel this way. Thanks to Donald Trump, we’re now finding out who they are.

  • Buck Turgidson

    Where do I buy the Panther Bots t-shirts? My daughter is a past robotics team captain, and we would love to donate to the team in support.