News / Toronto

Students barred from attending international competition by school board’s travel ban

Glen Ames Senior Public School robotics team invented an automatic flusher to help combat lead contamination of drinking water.

Glen Ames Senior Public School students (Clockwise L to R) Grace Jonker, Preston Grinnell, Duncan Pratt, Colin King, Tea Reed Watson, Megan Farrow, William Henderson, Arion Harinarain, Elsa Bienenstock, and Parker Staite, pose with their invention "The Royal Flush." The team recently finished in second place at the eastern Ontario provincials in the First Lego League robotics competition and has been invited to compete at an international competition in the U.S. this spring.

Torstar News Service

Glen Ames Senior Public School students (Clockwise L to R) Grace Jonker, Preston Grinnell, Duncan Pratt, Colin King, Tea Reed Watson, Megan Farrow, William Henderson, Arion Harinarain, Elsa Bienenstock, and Parker Staite, pose with their invention "The Royal Flush." The team recently finished in second place at the eastern Ontario provincials in the First Lego League robotics competition and has been invited to compete at an international competition in the U.S. this spring.

A local elementary school’s robotics team is hopeful the Toronto District School Board will reconsider its ban on travel to the U.S. for elementary school students as well as high school students, after the team earned an invitation to one of two international competitions south of the border.

Colin King, the captain of Glen Ames Senior Public School’s robotics team The Walking Lead, said the team will be let down if they can’t move on with the competition.

“It’s a bit disappointing because of all the hours we put in, about 200 hours plus, for us to not go to either Detroit or California,” he said.

The Walking Lead earned second place out of 40 teams at the First Lego League’s eastern Ontario provincials this month with the Royal Flush — an automatic flusher they invented to help combat lead contamination of drinking water at schools. They were also just one of two teams invited to present their project in front of the entire crowd of 800 people who attended the competition.

The team, a group of Grade 8 and one Grade 7 students, was inspired to tackle the issue after the Star found more than 640 schools and daycares across the country had failed to meet the provincial standard for lead in 2015 and 2016.

Their second place finish earned them a spot at a competition in either Detroit or San Diego this spring.

For this year’s team, however, a Toronto District School Board ban on travel to the U.S. means they might not get the chance to compete at the international level.

The board put the travel ban in place for any new student trips to the U.S. following President Donald Trump’s proposal to ban entry by citizens from one of a number of Muslim-majority countries.

“That decision was made so that students would not be put in a situation of potentially being turned away at the border,” explained Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for the TDSB.

Related

The board is set to consider an exemption to the ban for secondary school students attending competitions or professional development events next month, after numerous students raised concerns about lost opportunities.

The Walking Lead hopes the school may consider extending that exemption and a few members of the team will have a chance to make their case on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ll talk about all the effort we put in and how much of an honour it will be to go and show our product and our love for FLL with all the international teams that will be attending either Detroit or California,” said Colin.

“Our hope is simple, that these guys actually get a chance to showcase all the hard work they’ve put into this and represent TDSB, represent Toronto and really even represent Canada down at the international competition,” said his dad, Neil King, adding that just one per cent of the teams who start out in this competition make it to this level.

The team’s coach, Luke Martin, whose coached robotics for more than a decade said it’s a “big honour” just to be invited to the provincial tournament. “To win the 2nd highest trophy is something so rare it’s only happened once to a TDSB team before,” he added.

For the team, it would be a “tremendous opportunity” to attend the international competition said Neil King.

“It would be a wonderful experience not only from a technology perspective but also to interact with other cultures from around the world, see what other Grade 7, Grade 8 kids have come up with on their own,” he said.

While the team waits for a final decision they’ll start preparing for the First Lego League Ontario Innovation Celebration on February 25, which will bring 18 of the most innovative solutions student team’s developed.

More on Metronews.ca