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Daron Moore, VEX Robotics Coach in an Urban School Environment

“Mr. Moore, I would love to see a robot driving around these halls one day”. Daron notes that “those words from our late Principal, Mr. Walter Taylor Jr. still ring in my ears today. Little did he know, the prophetic implication of that statement would be fulfilled in 2006 – two years after his death.”

In 2006 the robotics program of I.C. Norcom High School was launched. I.C. Norcom High School is located in Portsmouth, VA and faces many challenges of today’s urban schools. The robotics program initially started as an after school club which participated in First Vex Competition and First Robotics Competition (FRC). During those foundational years, Moore, a Physics teacher, tried to teach an inexperienced group of students how to build a robot for competition.

Though he had a degree in Physics, Moore lacked an engineering background, which forced him to fight to stay a few paces ahead of the students. To supplement his lack of experience, Moore relied on numerous community engineering volunteers, who would aid the students in building and designing their robotic innovations.

The first competition they entered in Farmville, Virginia, in the fall of 2006, yielded a surprising success. Who would have imagined that a group of students who built a robot in two weeks would go on to compete in the quarterfinals of their regional competition. Unfortunately the school experienced numerous setbacks at the Regional FRC event held later on that year at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. As a result, the team was forced to remove a large portion of their robot in order to meet inspection guidelines.

Even though they had not achieved competition success, they had achieved moral, career, and social success. In fact, several of that original group of team members went on to attend college majoring in Mechanical Engineering!

Moore continued to coach and lead the team with much needed help from his school district and local community. I.C. Norcom High School now enjoys the support from several local businesses and institutions including the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. In recent years, the school has finally managed to obtain that highly elusive competitive success by earning the coveted awards of Tournament Champion and Excellence Award winner at their local regional Vex Robotics Competition held at Norcom.

This has qualified them to compete in the prestigious Vex Robotics World Championship in Dallas (2010) and Orlando (2011). Since 2006 the team has grown from the small initial group of after school students to include a co-curricular group of students that Moore teaches in his Principles of Technology class which emphasizes robotics.  In addition, with added training and robotics equipment to support the Robotics Engineering Curriculum the robotics program has expanded from Norcom High School to include the neighboring two high schools in the district!

Currently Mr. Moore is preparing to expand the presence of I.C. Norcom High School on the international stage by starting a robotics program in Honduras. Mr. Moore takes great pride in the opportunity to inspire the young people of Portsmouth and beyond to overcome the adversities of their inner city background.

What is really great is that not only is Mr. Moore making a difference but he has inspired his students to make a difference as well. In fact many of his former students come back to mentor and volunteer in the robotics program. Next year the current students will have the opportunity to perpetuate that initiative by mentoring the next generation of elementary aged robot engineers using Lego robotics in after school Chrome Clubs.