By Christian Ostorga
They say great leaders lead by example, and this phrase couldn’t be more true for our next coach Jesus Centeno, an 8-year technology and robotics teacher, 4-year FIRST LEGO League PR coach, and first year teacher at his alma mater Colegio San Vicente de Paul.
With perhaps one of the most storybook endings of the season, this rookie team from the San Juan neighborhood of Santurce exemplified every reason we exist and operate at FIRST LEGO League Puerto Rico.
Alongside assistant coach Brenda Colón, a 26-year Science and Mathematics teacher who taught Jesus as a student at Colegio San Vicente de Paul, the admirable duo led CSVP Robotic Squad to a very emotional victory that left many of us in awe.
“In the first year it was all new to me. I had never done it before but FIRST’s team is excellent. They helped me throughout the season and although you get anxious, knowing that you have people that guide and support you makes it easier. When I arrived at the competition and saw how it was, I understood that this is not just robotics. It’s an integration of so many subjects that enrich the education of students and coaches because I’ve learned so much since I competed in FIRST LEGO League,” says Jesus of his early beginnings as a coach.
Just two months of forming the team, CSVP Robotic Squad began their school year with a very strong performance at our first Practice Tournament of the season. The experienced leadership of Jesus, who had previously coached four different teams at two separate schools, became apparent as the first year robotics club rolled through competition. Though, despite their success, the team ran into struggles early on.
“The season was not easy for us. The participants hadn’t competed before and they didn’t know anything about robotics either. They were complete rookies in every way. So they made many mistakes. They even erased programming which they had to do over again. They are also from different grades; therefore, many of them had not spoken to each other before which was a challenge to form them into a team and teach them how to value the contributions of each other.”
Overcoming many hurdles, the positive reinforcement of Jesus and Brenda was fundamental in keeping the team on track. They performed well at our January Mock Tournament in Ponce and seemed to be in great shape heading into February. However, on the day of the Championship in front of a home crowd, the team dropped in the early rounds of the robot game and their spirits were noticeably low.
A concerned Jesus huddled his squad together, and passionately motivated his students. The result of the pep talk: The photo above.
During the third round of the Robot game, CSVP Robotics Squad came back around completing various missions in a row and closing the Robot Game with a flawless performance in the fourth round that erupted all of Colegio San Vicente de Paul’s supporters including the volunteers.
While the team’s comeback was enough for both coaches to celebrate, little did they know that the team was about to win their first award on home turf for a totally different reason.
“Colegio San Vicente de Paul is the school where I studied and graduated. What a privilege to be able to represent the school where I grew up and to be able to win a trophy. That excited me a lot. Most of the volunteers are currently my students, and many years ago I took care of them when they were little. So they are a part of my family. Even Brenda Colón. She was one of my teachers, and at the time she was one of my favorites. To work with her hand in hand and be able to win a trophy in our first year was something big and unexpected. Also, winning the award and seeing the category that it was in, I felt that the work was done and that the whole process was worth it. The emotion of the students, that’s the most important thing, and when they saw that they won, they were so thrilled. As I said before, it was a difficult season but at the same time we enjoyed it a lot.”
Despite being aware that they had fallen behind in points during the Robot Game, the students of CSVP Robotic Squad refused to give up regardless if they placed in the Top 10 or not. Unbeknownst to them, it was that unity, motivation, determination and love for one another that secured them an award.
Earlier that morning the students, who had already completed their judging sessions, had received high honors in the Core Values category particularly for their teamwork, and when Jesus and Brenda weren’t around for the evaluation process, the students were a direct reflection of their coaches, with one judge specifically noting, “We like how you encourage each other. Excellent teamwork!”
“I was very moved by the way they were able to overcome their limits and turn it into strength. How they integrated with each other and obviously their emotion when completing
the missions. Robotics promotes knowledge in mathematics, science, technology and engineering, in other words, STEM. So it helps the participants to reinforce and develop concepts of these subjects, but in a fun way that’s relevant to the real world. It helps these students to be disciplined, follow instructions, follow precise steps, organization and decision making. For this reason, it complements other disciplines perfectly such as sports. Another great advantage is that it encourages critical analysis, and students learn to solve problems quickly and efficiently,” adds Jesus.
This was Jesus’ first award after four seasons with the program, and also the first award for Brenda and the students of Colegio San Vicente de Paul. Another notable highlight was the strong presence of girls on the team:
“For years technology and LEGO’s have been associated with males, but the presence of females in this field is changing those paradigms. The girls in my experience have shown great mastery in technology, discipline, organization and leadership. For me, it’s important to have girls in my team to foster into society the importance of women, and that they can perform in any discipline.”
We want to congratulate Colegio San Vicente de Paul for an amazing season. Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped our Championship run smoothly, and more importantly, thank you to Jesus and Brenda for all of the hard work they invested in their students and our program!