District News

Tech tinkering to send Lodi students to Google robotics competition

Posted: Friday, January 20, 2017 12:08 am

Tech tinkering to send Lodi students to Google robotics competition By Christina Cornejo/NEWS-SENTINEL STAFF WRITER Lodi News-Sentinel

Tyler Smeenk, an eighth-grade student, held what appeared to be a gaming controller while moving a robot across a foam mat with his thumbs. He and other members of the Lodi Middle School Robotics Club were prepping their new robots for competition on Thursday afternoon.

The robot was equipped with a large wide fork attachment to a moveable arm which he used to pick up a foam star-shaped piece.

“It’s based on a forklift,” said Nicolaus Hilleary, an eighth grader who was also working on the robot.

He tried to flip the fork up to send the star up and over the height of 25 feet, but it got stuck in the bend of the robot’s arm for the first few runs. His group worked to rearrange parts and adjust a gear chain before trying again.

The robotics program headed by teacher Steve Box at Lodi Middle School is still in its infancy. Although students are already eager and very engaged in using tools and programming skills in the classroom, the competitive team has had a slow start due to the need to gather funding. GOT Kids Foundation, the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation and several local businesses and organizations have lent their support to Lodi Middle’s program.

Donations were especially important as the Vex Robotics sets needed to get started cost between $1,000 and $1,200.

Students received the first three VEX Robotics sets in December of last year and have been working diligently to put together functioning robots for a big competition this coming Saturday.

Their destination is the Google campus in Mountain View to compete in the Google VEX Starstruck tournament against schools from all over Northern California. The goal is to build a robot that can toss cubes and stars over a fence at a 20 foot height and 29 foot height to score points for their team and also robots that can block the opponent from tossing items over from the other side of the fence. Rounds are timed and the ones who toss the most items over the fence by the end win.

“It’s like sports for the nerds,” Hilleary said.

Given the short amount of time they’ve spent with the robots, the team is not expecting a big win right away, but instead are hoping to gain experience to bring back. With that the team can be better prepared for future competitions.

In addition to putting their robot building and programming skills to the test, students will also get to tour the Google campus to see what it’s like inside the giant technology company.

Students spent Thursday testing the controls of a fully-constructed robot, which was hand-programmed by a seventh-grade student in the class. They had to record logs of everything they changed or did during the preparation for the competition in an engineering notebook.

“One team went to nationals just because they had a great engineering notebook,” Hilleary said.

In another group, three seventh-grade girls were working on tightening bolts and nuts to attach a metal panel to a set of two robotic arms.

The panels were meant to block enemy fire of stars and cubes over the fence.

“We had some minor mistakes. When the arm comes up, it’s too flimsy and is not able to block,” said Madison Gallard, a seventh grader.

Classmates came over to offer suggestions as they tinkered such as, “can you add another motor here” and “what if you extend this part?” Despite being sectioned off into groups, there was a sense of working together ever present in the room.

The troubleshooting and creativity that students apply to figure out how to make their robots work are invaluable skills for them to learn, according to Box.

Until they experience failure and have to solve those problems, they won’t know how they’re doing, he said.

They build, test and then evaluate if the robot is doing what they need it to do.

“The kids have learned a lot. It’s a very student-driven process,” Box said. “When you own the learning process you get more out of it.”

Box is also working on creating an engineering course at Tokay High School so students who move up from Lodi Middle School can continue to build on what they’ve learned in his robotics class and in the after school competitive team. Outside of robotics, Box also teaches the Manufacturing Principles class at Lincoln Technical Academy and coaches basketball.

He is glad to be able to offer this kind of program for students and get them engaged in school in their middle school years.

“The kids have learned a lot. It’s a very student-driven process,” Box said. “When you own the learning process you get more out of it.”

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodi news.com.

Lodi Middle Robotics team members Justin Weber, 14, and Nicoulas Hilleary, 14, adjust the robotics as they test their competition robot Thurs, Jan. 19, 2017. The robotics team will be traveling to the Google campus in Mountain View Saturday for its first competition.

District News


The Lodi High Speech and Debate Team competed in the first tournament of the year at Enochs High School in Modesto.  Lodi was one of 14 Central Valley schools competing in the event.  Lodi's highlights included:

Darby McCauley earned first place in International Extemporaneous Speaking and Conner Wright finished second.


Sarah Bustamonte was first in Original Prose and Poetry, Mariah Diego won third and Taylor Reed placed fourth.


Erynn Brophy placed first in Humorous Interpretation.


Mercedes Diego earned first place in Thematic Interpretation.


In Interpretation, students have been working to find a unique script to cut down and perform, ranging anywhere from a heart-wrenching story to a humorous play.  Interpretation teaches students to be confident individuals while providing them with useful speaking skills for the future.


"My favorite thing about Speech is being surrounded by people I can relate to; people who are out of the box and different." says sophomore Megan Kim.


Kim is a first-year student participating in the event who intends on performing a dramatic piece based on the novel Thin by Grace Bowman.  Another ambitious student looking to impress is Caroline Seibly.  "Speech and Debate helps expose me to new things and also has improved my public speaking ability."  said Seibly, who has been working vigorously to prepare for the novice tournament later this year.


She plans on performing a humorous interpretation based on a play called Beauty Sleep by Meghan Hakes.  In Etemp and Debate, students are continuing to develop their skills as informative speakers and performers.


In class, captains have worked with the students to better understand current events and economics, with the goal of gaining an understanding as to be able to explain these complex issues in speeches.  


By Kyla Cathey


In the Discovery Center at Lodi Lake on Thursday, stuffed owls, hawks and deer looked on as three students prepared a water testing kit.  Storm Drain Detectives Dylan O'Ryan and Hayley Hower placed the electrode of the pH meter into a packet of buffer solution to calibrate it, while Kyle O'Ryan collected the record sheet and notebook needed to take down all of their data.


The students' preparations were guided by Kathy Grant, the City of Lodi's watershed education coordinator, Curt Jordan, who helps education program, and Brian Bock, the city's environmental compliance engineer.


Hower waited for a few minutes, "It's stuck at 6.9." she said.


"Be very patient with the pH meter," Bock said.  The packet with the buffer has to be held very still so the electrode doesn't slip out, he explained.


After a few more seconds, it reached 7, and Hower was able to calibrate the meter.  Once all of the equipment was prepared, the students filed out of the center while Grant locked up, and the group headed to a secluded spot on the Mokelumne River, just north of the city's No. 1 outfall.  During rainfall, water enters storm drains in the city and is carried - with no filtration or treatment - to the outfall, Grant said.


By Christina Cornejo


Lodi Police watched as Heritage Elementary students were climbing into and out of their police vehicles on the lawn during after school hours on Thursday afternoon.


One fifth grade student sat himself in the driver's seat of the patrol car and sent a message from the car's loudspeaker in his most authoritative voice, "You're under arrest!"


Lodi Police were putting on a Meet the Beat event for the local community to come out to meet law enforcement and learn more about the different things that they do.


They also invited San Joaquin County Sheriff's deputies who showed off their boat to a flurry of curious children, eager to jump on it.  Vehicles from animal services, code enforcement and a plain-clothes detectives car were also there to look at.


Many of the children were impressed by a display put out from the bomb squad and K-9 unit, but most were awestruck by the large armored vehicle, the BATT.


"The best part is that they let you go inside and touch everything." said  Adamariz Pacheco, a fifth grader who enjoyed all the gadgets on the BATT.


In learning about different tools that police use and after meeting officers, some children were thinking of their future careers.  "I want to change jobs now.  I was going to be a paleontologist but now I want to be this." said Alberto Gallardo, a fifth grader from Heritage Elementary who had just gotten done trying on the heavy SWAT bullet-proof vest in front of the BATT.


Children also collected officer trading cards and asked questions like, "Is it a hard job to do?"


"It's nice when we have the opportunity to do these events.  Usually, we're busy with things going on," said Lodi Police Sgt. Mike Mannetti.  "We just answer questions and let them look at stuff.  It makes it easier so they're not so afraid of law enforcement.


Every child at this event was very comfortable playing out pretend scenarios in the armored vehicle and sitting with friends in the back and front seats of patrol cars.  Soon each was running to the next new thing.


The department plans to have more events in other neighborhoods and interact not just with children but with parents and other members of the community.  They do this in the hopes that they can develop a better relationship with residents of Lodi.




By Emily Beaton


With the prior elimination of senior projects as a requirement for graduation, Jen Cassel, Tokay English teacher, fought to keep it alive and kept it integrated into her classroom with her Capstone Project where students research a topic that they could connect with.


"The senior project was originally supposed to be a sum of the 12 years of education students undergo.  The Capstone Project also prepares students for college and real life." Cassel said.


The project has deadlines, requires time commitments as well and students have to learn how to write a resume and cover letter.


"I love the freedom that students have to choose their product and how it encourages students to pick something they are passionate about.  That's when they do their best." Cassel said.


For Baljeet Dhaliwahl, doing the senior Capstone Project was so much more than just exploring a hobby.  Dhaliwahl chose to research breast cancer and to discover ways she could raise awareness for breast cancer amongst girls and women.  She frequently volunteered at the American Cancer Society in Stockton, and helped out with paperwork and phone calls to benefit the annual Relay For Life fundraiser.


While at the Relay For Life fundraiser, which was held at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, she was also able to talk to breast cancer survivors.


"It was a very emotional thing to talk about what you went through, but it brought them comfort."  Dhaliwahl said.  "They encourage girls to be very aware and to undergo self examinations every month."


For the physical component Dhaliwahl chose to make a brochure that she can pass out to other girls to educate and to make them aware about breast cancer.


Senior Matthew Arceo chose to research the homeless and less fortunate populations of the community.


"If I was going to do something with the senior project, I wanted to help people." Arceo said.


"To gain a hands-on experience through this research, Arceo volunteered along with some of the members of his church, Bear Creek Community in Stockton.


Arceo and fellow church members would would then collect and take boxes of food to a neighborhood park in Stockton, where the homeless often frequent, and would individually pass them out.


"People should at least take notice of those in poverty, help out every now and then even if it's something small, as long as it helps someone it's worth it." Arceo said 




Liberty High School graduates record senior class By Kyla Cathey/Lodi Living Editor Lodi News-Sentinel

A hum of excited conversation and an air of expectation filled the Charlene Powers Lange Theatre at Hutchins Street Square on Thursday morning.

When the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” rang out, though, the audience turned in their seats to watch the stream of seniors slowly marching toward the stage, and the murmurs turned into cheers of excitement.

Clad in white and light blue graduation gowns, the excited teens couldn’t keep the infectious, proud grins off of their faces as the procession curled through the theater to their seats on the stage.

They had a lot to be proud of, Principal Tamara Dillon said.

“Today marks an important milestone in the lives of these young people,” she told the families and friends gathered to celebrate the record-breaking 70 graduates.

But the students at Liberty High School, a continuation school in Lodi, have faced challenges many of their peers did not, she said.

Many transferred to Liberty at the beginning of their junior or senior year, because they had struggled in traditional high school or fallen behind on coursework for a large number of reasons: they had lost one or both parents to illness, death, prison or addiction, they were in a situation where they had no steady home, they had to work to help support their families and fell behind in academics.

All 70 of the graduates had met with her for an orientation when they began attending Liberty, Dillon said.

“At that first meeting, they often looked frustrated and tired,” she said. “But every student has a desire to be successful.”

Some had their own personal hurdles to face; some were the first in their families to attend high school and had no support network at home when they struggled with school work.

But every one of the students on stage had overcome those hurdles to earn a high school diploma.

“They are champions,” Dillon announced to cheers. “They have survived, thrived, overcome and achieved their goals.”

Student speaker Adilenne Ruiz thanked her family and friends, especially her mother, who pushed her when she needed it, she said. Then, she spoke to her fellow graduates.

“We all had one common goal: to survive and graduate,” she said.

They entered Liberty feeling like they were facing an overwhelming amount of work, but with the support of the school’s staff and their friends and family, they were able to prove to themselves — and those who thought they could never do it — that they could overcome.

“We learned through hard work and perseverance that we could reach our goals,” she said.

It was fitting that graduate Blakeley Halloran’s performance of “Rise Up” should follow Ruiz’s speech. When Dillon introduced her, she said Halloran should be on “The Voice,” the singing competition show — but the audience wasn’t prepared for her powerful rendition of Andra Day’s soulful hit.

“That was awesome!” one man in the audience screamed out as the last note faded, unleashing a wave of cheers.

Then, Levana Ascencio Barrios, gave her valedictory speech, opening with a nod to her own personal struggle.

“Dad, losing you didn’t make me give up,” she said. “It made me work harder.”

She thanked Liberty’s teachers and the audience before offering a few words of advice to her fellow graduates.

“No matter how hard life gets, no matter what bumps we hit, never give up. That’s the easy way out,” she said.

Jose Santillan offered one final performance before diplomas were handed out. He’d never played guitar before transferring to Liberty in the fall, but took the guitar classes the high school offers.

Now, 10 months later, he was able to navigate the tricky melody for “Cherry Wine,” to the delight of the audience.

Afterward came the most triumphant part of the ceremony, as each student stepped forward to accept their diploma and shake hands with Lodi Unified trustees George Neely and Bonnie Cassel.

And then, diplomas in hand, tassels dutifully transferred to the left sides of their caps, and the notes of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” filling the theater, all that was left to do was file onto the grounds of Hutchins Street Square for hugs and photos — and their next adventure.



Independence High graduates cross finish line By Danielle Vaughn/News-Sentinel Staff Writer Lodi News-Sentinel

The Charlene Powers Lange Theatre at Hutchins Street Square was filled with family members, teachers and mentors anxiously awaiting the moment that their graduate would walk across the stage and receive their diplomas during the Independence High School Class of 2017 graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon.

After so much hard work and overcoming so much adversity, 55 students made it to the finish line and were excited to share this moment of accomplishment with all who supported them over the years.

“Family members and friends, thank you so much for coming today,” Dr. Dominee Muller-Kimball, Independence High School principal, said. “It means so much to the students. It means so much to the faculty and staff and also Lodi Unified School District.”

After the graduates made their way into the auditorium, three of the students each welcomed everyone in their native language. Jayla Washington welcomed the crowd in English, Sayra Briano in Spanish and Shorook Hassan in Arabic.

Muller-Kimball took a moment to address the students and the crowd while conducting the ceremony Thursday afternoon.

“This year the students who are sitting on this stage are the true definition of the term game-changer,” Muller Kimball said. “Students come to Independence for a variety of reasons. Irregardless each student came to independence to start a new game plan.”

She recalled the first time she met with the students and learned their stories.

“What’s so amazing and this common element with all of these students is that each was determined to graduate from high school and each was determined to earn a diploma,” Muller-Kimball said. “To me that means everything.”

During the ceremony, graduate Jayla Washington shared her story and how she came to be a student at Independence High. Washington came to Independence from Bear Creek High School in her junior year after getting pregnant. Washington continued to pursue her education while juggling motherhood and a part-time job at McDonald’s. She credited her son as well as her family and teachers as motivators to keep her going even when she wanted to give up.

“It’s been really hard,” Washington said. “There were times when I wanted to give up. About a month before graduation what changed my mind was everybody telling me I could do it and seeing my baby smile when I put my cap and gown on. Now I know I can go to college and have the life that I want for Demarcus and me.”

Valedictorian Shabana Ahmed addressed her fellow classmates as well as the audience during the ceremony.

“As a group, we did start from the bottom. I can see now the whole team made it,” she said. “I can’t believe that the day has come for us to finally say our good-byes and begin a new chapter in our lives. ”

During the ceremony Adam Paulin was recognized as the class’s salutatorian while Athena Campero and Sunnie Jamieson received art awards, Samone Mouton received the English language arts award, Zoe Martinez received the social science and mathematics awards and Victor Nemecio received the mathematics award.

Eight students were recognized for maintaining honor roll all four years of school. Those recognized included Romana Ahmed, Shabana Ahmed, Cayley Duncan, Malak Hassan, Destiny Jones, Alexis King, Zoe Martinez and Adam Paulin.

Malak and Sharook Hassan were presented with the Alfred C. Platt Scholarship award, Shabana Ahmed was the recipient of the Charlotte Elias Scholarship award and Romana Ahmed was the recipient of the Matilda Alcalay award.

The Job Redi Foundation also awarded $10,000 grants to Malak Hassan, Shorook Hassan and Christine Chavez.

As Muller-Kimball called out the names of the graduates, school counselor Susan Rosales presented the students with their diplomas. The students shook hands with Rosales as they were presented with their diplomas and then paused for pictures.

The graduates were congratulated by Lodi Unified School Board Trustee Bonnie Cassel and board Vice President George Neely on the way to their seats.



By Nicholas Filipas
Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON — Tears were shed, hugs were shared and local educators were celebrated Friday evening as the Weberstown Mall Barnes & Noble store honored the 2016 My Favorite Teacher contest.

Sandra Starr, an Advanced Placement environmental science and biology teacher at Tokay High School, was honored as the local winner and was nominated by Tokay senior Julie Fukunaga.The bookseller’s contest ran earlier this year and gave middle and high school students the chance to express how much much they appreciate their teachers.

More than 70 submissions were received in the form of essays, poems or thank-you letters.

Fukunaga’s essay detailed the impact that Starr has had on her and biology students at Tokay High, including club mentoring, volunteer work and teaching grant writing and project proposals.

Although Fukunaga was not in attendance as she was touring the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her sister, Tokay High junior Kristen Fukunaga, read on her behalf.

Coincidently, Kristen Fukunaga also wrote her own essay nominating Starr, who had spent nine years teaching marine biology and had received eight nominations overall from current and former students.

“I really love what I do, I love seeing the students light up with excitement,” Starr said. “I love science and I love teaching.”

The winning essay detailed Starr’s leadership for students in organizing and running the first NorCal Science and Technology Festival in February and appreciation for STEM-related fields focuson in science, technology, engineering and math.


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Her cheerleading and perseverance for the festival, Julie Fukunaga wrote, led to the 2,500 attendees that came.

Starr was selected out of 39 other educators from elementary and high schools from Aspire Public Schools, Delta Middle College, the San Joaquin County Office of Education and Lincoln, Lodi and Stockton unifieds.

Among those teachers in attendance to listen to their students read essays were Vanessa Romo from Able Charter; Nicole Perez, George Gardner, Kristina Hardison and Erlinda Selga from Edison High and Chao Lor from Kennedy Elementary School.

Rebecca Iacovino, community business development manager for Barnes & Noble in Stockton, said they had more than 70 nominations, many for the same teacher.

She said there were many essays sent in from younger grades that did not qualify to be in the contest, but the students wanted to write an essay acknowledging their favorite teachers anyway.

Starr received a $500 Barnes & Noble gift card and a Samsung NOOK tablet. She now is entered in a pool of regional winners for the Barnes & Noble National Teacher of the Year, in which the winner and their school will each receive $5,000.

— Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or nfilipas@recordnet.com. Follow him on recordnet.com/filipasblog or on Twitter @nicholasfilipas.


By Nicholas Filipas
Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON — The weather conditions on Friday were just right. Light winds; low humidity and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky. A perfect day to launch a weather balloon 100,000 feet and beyond into the atmosphere.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students from Delta Sierra Middle School watched with anticipation as Ted Tagami and Tony So, co-founders of Magnitude.io, prepared to send the high-altitude weather balloon with CanSat instrumentation into the air.

“Everybody ready?” Tagami asks to the sounds of cheers. “OK, countdown...5...4...3...2...1!

The CanSat satellite, small enough to fit into a can of soda, was set to travel across San Joaquin County for 2 ½ hours. Its projected route was to fly over Stockton and land somewhere between Ripon and Escalon, but in reality, it eventually landed outside of Modesto. A GPS tracking system allowed students of Harold Ross’ seventh-grade science class to track and locate the landing spot in real time.

After careful observation of the wind and weather patterns during the week, Friday’s liftoff just before noon went without a hitch, and the balloon, for the 

most part, stayed on course.

“We originally were going for Wednesday, but if we had, it would’ve taken us all the way down to Gilroy,” Tagami said of the winds not being favorable. “The recovery would be a little bit on long side and there was a chance it would be in the mountains.”

Principal Brad Watson said Delta Sierra in the Lodi Unified School District is in its second year as a STEM Academy with focuses on robotics, medical technology, forensics and creating of apps for mobile devices.

Tagami and So of Magnitude.io bring STEM related projects to classrooms with the goal of inspiring students and to get them interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The two 

men have been working with the district and Ross’ class since the start of the school year and have also assisted in rocket launches with the Manteca Unified School District.

After recovery, students are expected to be able to download and transfer data collected on the pre-built CanSat canister, including data on altitude, temperature, speed, velocity and moisture readings.

A tiny camera also made the ride and will be able to provide the view what it looks like to almost touch the outer limits of the atmosphere.

“We are here to bring students right to the edge of discovery,” Tagami said.

Hours before the launch, Tagami said they were approved by the Federal Aviation Administration as a notice was filed to alert any aircraft out of Lodi of the balloon’s voyage.

The launch also benefits another class project: how the upper atmosphere affects its urban garden that grows vegetables approved to be served in the school lunch program.

What happens in the atmosphere, said Watson, can have an effect on growth and quality of life.

“Kids need to know what happens in atmosphere it effects what you eat,” said Watson. “They can see the connection.”

— Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or nfilipas@recordnet.com. Follow him on recordnet.com/filipasblog or on Twitter @nicholasfilipas.