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Pembroke students qualify for VEX World Championships

PEMBROKE - Pembroke Academy Robotics' first full-time year with VEX has seen most of the program's eight teams pull in handfuls of awards in recent months, with some qualifying to compete this April in the VEX World Championship in Anaheim, Calif.

Joshua Young, Devin St. Onge and Alicia Chrichlow qualified for the World Vex Championship after receiving the Programming Skills Winner Award, the Tournament Finalist Award and the Excellence Award at a January regional competition held in Rhode Island. They will be joined by Joe Landry and Jason White after they qualified in February at the Maine State Championship, where they received the Programming Skill Award, the Driver Skills Award and the Excellence Award.

Four other teams have also qualified for the New England Super Regionals.

Pembroke Academy has been involved with VEX for five years, though this is their first year working with the program full time. Before that, the robotics program competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition for 18 years.

VEX centers around a standardized kit (retailing at $199.99), developed by Innovation First, Inc. In VEX Robotics Competitions, teams build and program robots to complete a given task, with a new one revealed each year, in a square 12-by-12 ring.

"We build robots," said Chrichlow, a junior at Pembroke Academy. "We start with metal and axles and we build an entire robot. We program it ourselves, we design it, we think about it and what we want to do ahead of time, and then we build it, test it, see what works."

For all of the press surrounding the competitions, however, awards are not the whole story with Pembroke Robotics. All of the students said they were excited for the World Championship, but when one senior called it "just another competition. Business as usual," a nod of approval swept the teams.

For most of the VEX students at Pembroke, the Robotics Program is not simply an after school program or a chance to gain bragging rights. For many of them, it is the begging of a career. Several students spoke of their intent to study mechanical engineering at schools like the University of New Hampshire or Clarkson.

"I have to shoo them out at 6 o' clock most nights. They are passionate," said Program Director David Kelly. "They're doing all the designing, all the programming, the strategy, everything themselves. I remember doing FIRST, I was always down on the field (helping with the robots). Now, I'm sitting by myself up in the stands, and I'm trying to do scouting all by myself and they're all down on the fields working on the robots. It's almost a complete flip."

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