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Robotics program thriving at Lahainaluna High School

By Staff | Oct 13, 2016

Lahainaluna High School Robotics Team members mentor students in the Vex IQ program at Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena Elementary School.

LAHAINA – The fantasy world of 3D action concepts is becoming a worldwide phenomenon with the growing number of robotics enthusiasts – including students of all ages across Maui County.

Here on the West Side, veteran Lahainaluna High School teacher Dennis Sasai has stepped up to the control panel to serve as the Maui District resource teacher for Career and Technical Education for the seven Hawaii Department of Education high schools in Maui County.

He directs and mentors the schools under his watch in regard to Career Pathways and their respective Programs of Study.

In the past, these programs were considered vocational education classes like auto tech, culinary arts, agriculture, business, graphic arts and digital media. Nowadays, they are a lot more than that.

Sasai supports programs in curriculum, instruction assessment, budget planning, fiscal oversight, safety and as a liaison to outside entities. He’s been in this position for four years now and admits to a busy travelling schedule that limits time for his family (wife Shondra, also a teacher at Lahainaluna, and their two young daughters).

Luna Robotics Team members have been very active in robot-building competitions in recent years, travelling to Los Angeles, San Diego and Oahu for regional face-offs.

Dennis is also the lead mentor for the Lahainaluna FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Robotics Team that started up in 2011.

The program began as a Vex Robotics entity in 2009 and has since grown into a “varsity sport” for robotics, evolving from four students and three mentors to 22 students and five mentors.

There is also a Vex EDR program today as a junior varsity, and a Vex IQ program at Princess Nahi’ena’ena Elementary School, where the Luna team serves as mentors for the students there.

In FIRST Robotics – a global competition – a task description is given worldwide simultaneously on “Kickoff Day,” which is usually slated for the first Saturday in January.

Teams from all around the world then have six weeks to build a robot for the designated task. There are no directions – just a kit of parts and whatever the team has or can purchase. Rules apply for what you can buy and how much you can spend.

At the end of six weeks, on “Stop Build Day,” the robot is bagged, put into a shipping crate and sent to the regional competition sites. The robot can be 28 inches wide, 30 inches in length, four feet tall and weigh up to 120 pounds.

Luna Robotics has been very active in these competitions in recent years, travelling to Los Angeles, San Diego and Oahu for regional face-offs.

According to Sasai, the team has made it through the elimination rounds to the quarterfinals against some 100 other competitors.

For the current school year, Luna Robotics is planning on trips to Southern California and Honolulu. The program always welcomes contributions from the community to offset costs.

A bigger event planned for this year is the inaugural Lahaina Vex IQ Tournament scheduled for Nov. 12 at the Lahainaluna cafeteria from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The first-time event, hosted by Luna Robotics, will mark a milestone for the program. Teams from Princess Nahi’ena’ena, Lahaina Intermediate, as well as elementary and middle school programs from all over Maui County will participate in the event. The public is invited, and there will be no charge.

“There is a misconception that to participate in robotics, you need to be great in engineering, math, science, etc., but that is not true. We help to teach and strengthen those skills, but we have a media team that does our brochures, pictures and videos; and also a programming team that learns coding and programming. We also have an outreach team, and a design team that uses computer-aided drafting and design,” Sasai explained.

The 2016-17 Luna Robotics Team is led by Team President Alana Power, Build Team Captain Aaron Yogi, and Drive Team Captain Chase Bumanlag.

The team roster includes Gerard Andrew Bonifacio, Cristopher Morales Garcia, Sukaryo Ray Heilscher, Eunice Gaper, Denton Johnson, Alanarose Duran, Jay Baptista, Zerwin Jay Aquino, Seth Richards, Kylee Kobatake, Marichris Guerrero, Anjanette Patricia Aveno, Jenna Swengel, Paul Edward V. Gaper, Bailey Honda, Eddymar Cabading, Cael Yasutake, Diolo Pascual, Jerico Olpindo and Aaron Berbiglia.

Dennis is joined by fellow Luna Robotics mentors Randy Arakawa, Tad Luckey, Colin Delos Reyes and Graham Seki.