The Midnight Girls, from left to right, Cecilia Baca, Esther Goldman, Sybella Wasson, Marin Lackey, Clover Rashby, and Ashlyn Lampe

November 19, 2019 – It all started when Girl Scouts released a series of robotics badges. Local robotics team, Acme Robotics, offered to teach a robotics class to Girl Scouts, and Brownie Troop 181 was quick to sign up. These girl scouts discovered that they really loved working with EV3 Lego Mindstorm robots and had a knack for programming. Mike Oitzman, mentor of Acme Robotics, noticed that the girls had advanced cooperation skills, and offered to help start a FIRST Lego League team for the girls, and Acme member, Emma Scheffo, age 16, offered to help coach it. The local Girl Scout council, Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, offered a $400 grant to get the team started, and donated team shirts. How could they say no with all this support?

Girl Scout Leaders, and soon-to-be FIRST Lego League Mentors, Carmelita Wasson and Shannon Rashby invited the nine Girl Scouts in Troop 181 to join the new team. Six of these 4th graders accepted the invitation and named themselves the “Midnight Girls.”

FIRST Lego League includes 4th through 8th graders. The teams compete in 4 areas: Robot Design, Core Values, Innovation Project and Robot Performance. The first three are measured by a meeting with judges, but Robot Performance is measured with a game. In the game, the teams are given a list of tasks, called “missions,” for their robot to complete. The robot must be autonomous, may contain only one Lego Mindstorm block, and have no more than four motors. Teams are given 2 ½ minutes to complete as many missions as possible. Being a rookie team with almost no robot experience, Midnight Girls set a goal for themselves to complete 3 missions in time for their qualifier tournament at Intel in Folsom, on November 16th. They completed 5 missions!

Sybella Wasson, Clover Rashby, and Ashlyn Lampe try out their robot improvements on the practice table

The second thing they had to prepare was an Innovation Project based on the current challenge called City Shaper. Teams were asked to identify a problem with a building or public space in their community, design a solution, and share this solution with their community. Midnight Girls decided to explore the problem of homeless campfires spreading into wildfires. Sheila Cameron, of Ready Nevada County, organized a meeting at the Rood Center, where the girls met with representatives from the County Department of Emergency Services, the H.O.M.E. team, and the Sherriff department. “The meeting made me feel really important because they treated us like adults,” said Marin Lackey, age 9, of Midnight Girls.

After the meeting, the girls took the information they had learned and got to work brainstorming solutions. They settled on a “Trash Trade Store.” Their project reports that trash at homeless campsites is a huge fire risk. Their solution will help reduce fuel in campsites by allowing homeless individuals to bring in their trash and trade it for supplies they need as well as supplies that will reduce fire risk, such as fire safety tools, camping supplies, and warm clothes and blankets. They even added a “Trash Trade Truck” to their solution when they realized that some individuals may be limited by transportation. The truck would go out to different homeless camps each day and do trading on a smaller scale. During the qualifier tournament, the Midnight Girls had five minutes to present their Innovation Project to the judges, which was then followed by a five minute Q & A session.

Finally, they would be judged on Core Values, such as gracious professionalism, teamwork, fun and coopertition, a FIRST core value word combining cooperation with competition. Camelita Wasson said, “Honestly, we didn’t do much to prepare them for this. Their background in Girl Scouts had already taught them advanced character skills. We expected them to excel in this area.”

On tournament day, they got to do one practice run of the robot game before they went in to talk to the judges. It was a disaster! But, when Carmelita asked the girls what they should work on before the next match, they agreed that their team cheer was a top priority. These girls were nailing the “fun” core value!

After judging, they scored 160 on their first Robot Performance match. This is not a particularly high score, but the girls were thrilled to break 100. They also revealed their new cheer, “Girl power, girl power, let me hear you say it louder!” Their excitement filled the room.

Back Row: Emma Scheffo, Cecilia Baca, Ashlyn Lampe, Shannon Rashby, Sybella Wasson, Carmelita Wasson, Clover Rashby, Esther Goldman, and Marin Lackey

Then, they had an idea to improve their robot, and it worked. They scored 195 on their second match. After that, Midnight Girl, Cecilia Baca, age 10, had an idea to score more points, but she wasn’t sure if it was a legal move. She went to the question box, and asked the head referee her question and was given the green light. The team implemented her idea and their score increased again in the last match. This final score of 240 placed them in 5thplace overall in the game.

Now it was time for awards. By combining points in all areas: Robot Design, Core Values, Innovative Project, and Robot Performance, five of the sixteen teams would qualify for the Championships. Midnight Girls heard their name called by the emcee! Six young Midnight Girls jumped and screamed, and ran up to accept their invitation, high fiving all the judges and referees from the day. “I was so excited that I almost started crying,” said Midnight Girl, Clover Rashby, age 9. They thought that was it, and the awards were over, but there was more.

The Midnight Girls were also one of two teams selected to participate in the NorCal Innovation Expo in San Jose, CA. Teams are chosen for this based solely on their Innovation Project. FIRST Lego League judges are looking for projects that are innovative and feasible. At the NorCal Innovation Expo, the Midnight Girls will compete for four spots at the FIRST Global Innovation Expo in Walt Disney World where they could compete for $20,000 to implement their Innovation Project.

…And it all started because Girl Scouts added a robotics badge, and some really great members of our community said, “I’ll help.”