Schools notebook

Millerbots headed to nationals

TANGLETOWN — For the third time since it was founded four years ago, the Washburn High School robotics team is headed to nationals.

The Millerbots will send 10 members from their 30-student squad to compete in the FIRST Robotics Championship April 27–30 in St. Louis. They advanced after winning the North Star Regional held March 31–April 2 at Mariucci Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.

Also joining them at nationals will be teams from Mendota Heights’ Convent of the Visitation School and Detroit Lakes High School who, under the rules of the competition, formed a three-team alliance with the Millerbots at the regional event.

Since it was founded in 1992, the FIRST Robotics Competition has challenged high school students across the country to design, build and program a robot capable of completing a specific task.

“It’s completely different every year, and they keep it a big secret,” said Peter Grul, a Washburn physics teacher who coached the team with Sara Etzel, a Washburn engineering teacher.

This year’s competition called for robots capable of picking up inflated inner tubes and hanging them on pegs.

The robots operate by remote control, but each round of competition includes a brief, preliminary phase when robots operate autonomously. A third phase of the competition follows the main game, when teams release smaller “minibots” that race to climb a metal pole.

“I’d say the addition of the minibot made it more complex, but I like it, because it’s hard to keep 30 kids busy on one robot,” Grul said.

That hadn’t been an issue in the past. The last time the Millerbots qualified for nationals, in 2009, there were only 10 students on the team. But interest in the robotics competition exploded this year, with many new recruits coming from an engineering elective class taught by Etzel.

Medtronic sponsored the Millerbots this year, providing $2,500 in financial support at the beginning of the season and another $2,500 when the team qualified for nationals.

Still, the win set off a fundraising scramble. Previous trips to nationals cost about $10,000, Grul said.

“Parents are stepping up,” he said. “The Washburn Foundation is stepping up.”


Area students in Highpoint exhibition

THE WEDGE — Students from Southwest and Washburn high schools are among the young artists appearing in the ACCESS/PRINT Teen Project Exhibition running April 22­–May 7 at Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 912 W. Lake St.

Southwest’s Maya Powell and Washburn’s Ethan Oscarson were among the four high school-aged artists accepted into the print shop’s fall mentorship program. Work by another four students who participated in the spring program will also be on view in the exhibition.

A free opening reception 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. April 22 will include “kid-friendly” refreshments. Family, friends and teachers were encouraged to attend.

On display at the same time will be the LOOK/SEE Annual Student Exhibition of prints created by students in grades 3–12 who have visited the Highpoint studios throughout the school year. Students from Emerson Spanish Immersion School, the Minneapolis Kids program at Barton Open School and San Miguel Middle School, all located in Southwest, participated in LOOK/SEE this year.

Go to for more information on the programs or exhibition.


Students’ campaign teaches tolerance

TANGLETOWN — A group of Washburn High School students saw their message of tolerance go up on billboards in Southwest and South Minneapolis in March.

About 20 students in one of Washburn art teacher Nancy Hinz’s classes created three messages for the “Create! Don’t Hate” campaign, a youth mentoring and social action initiative organized Design Ignites Change. The Washburn students worked with college design students and local design professionals to craft visually appealing messages of acceptance and tolerance.

“The highlight of the project was the kids actually got to see their work published, and see a very positive message being communicated to the community,” said Lisa Musselman, former director of volunteers for AIGA Minnesota, an organization of design professionals that collaborated on the project. “For me, it was incredibly rewarding just to be a part of the whole thing.”

The billboards went up at the intersections of East 48th Street and Chicago Avenue South, West 50th Street and Penn Avenue South and West 38th Street and Nicollet Avenue. The students developed nine designs and then, after a critique session with local design professionals, selected the three messages that eventually went on display.

Schools notebook

Little Kids Rock in Minneapolis

A national nonprofit that promotes music education in public schools with a rock ’n’ roll curriculum donated more than $150,000 worth of guitars to Minneapolis Public Schools in March.

More than 20 Minneapolis teachers attended a guitar workshop held March 4 by San Francisco-based Little Kids Rock. They’ll be using the donated guitars to teach students at their schools to play popular music styles like blues, rock, reggae and hip-hop on rock band instruments.

Launched in 2002, Little Kids Rock programs are now active in 24 cities nationwide and reach an estimated 70,000 students, the nonprofit reports on its website. It expanded this year to Minneapolis and New Orleans with $500,000 from the Dr. Phil Foundation, a charitable organization founded by author and daytime talk show host Philip McGraw.

Teachers from Burroughs, Bryn Mawr, Lake Harriet and Kenwood community schools, Ramsey International Fine Arts Center and Anthony and Anwatin middle schools were among those at the March 4 guitar workshop.

Little Kids Rock recruits band and classroom teachers with some guitar experience to lead the program in their schools, a group that now numbers more than 700 teachers across the country, said Keith Hejna, communications and outreach coordinator for Little Kids Rock. Those teachers share lesson ideas, tips and techniques in an online forum called The Hang.

“The Minneapolis teachers have been extremely active on it already, which is great,” Hejna said in March.

The Little Kids Rock curriculum was built around traditional rock band instruments, including guitar, bass guitar, keyboard and drums. In the rock- and pop-focused lessons, students learn to play instruments through “the music that engages them on a daily basis,” Hejna said.

Students also learn to improvise and compose their own songs, he added.

“We have an annual songwriting contest each year and get hundreds of submissions,” he said.

Visit the Little Kids Rock website ( to learn more about the program.


Southwest student beats the odds

LINDEN HILLS — A Southwest High School senior won a $4,000 scholarship March 11 for overcoming a life filled with hardships.

Alexander Glaze was one of four students out of nearly 100 applicants from across the Twin Cities selected for a “Beat the Odds” scholarship from the Children’s Defense Fund–Minnesota. Glaze’s counselor, Mary Morseth, nominated him for the award.

“[I don’t know] how I could not have nominated Alex,” Morseth said. “He has overcome some very significant loss and obstacles since he started high school and when he was younger.”

Glaze’s mother faced an addiction to drugs. At age eight, he and his twin sister were removed from her care and sent to live with their father. Despite his mother’s problems, Glaze said she loved her children dearly and that his father never cared for them. When he turned 18, his father kicked his sister and him out of the house and asked them never to return.

His mother died of drug overdose when he was in ninth grade. That’s when he decided to buckle down more than ever and try his hardest in school.

Despite family problems, Glaze currently has a 3.5 GPA and earned a 30 on his ACT. He accomplished this even while taking advanced courses, participating in student government and playing football.

Glaze has been accepted to several schools including the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Fordham University in New York City. He was interviewed by alumni at Stanford and Harvard and is waiting to hear if he has been accepted.

He said he hopes to study law and eventually make a career in politics. This summer, Mayor R.T. Rybak offered him an internship in his office.

Glaze is also hoping to hear back from the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which would pay all of the costs for college for life.

“I knew [my life] could only get better if I tried,” Glaze said. “That’s what I did. For me, I knew I could make a change.”

Glaze said he was honored and surprised to be named a finalist for the “Beat the Odds” scholarship, but Morseth said she knew he would win.

“I would have been shocked had he not been chosen,” she said. “I believe in Alex and I think he’s really going to make a difference.”