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Six Barstow Elementary School students were “solid as a rock” as they presented their research and construction skills on hurricane preparation last month on a global stage.

The Junior FIRST LEGO League (JrFLL) team from Barstow Elementary in Prince Frederick were invited to attend the 2014 FIRST World Festival Expo on April 23 in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome where the St. Louis Rams football team plays. The event is a worldwide competition and exhibition organized by FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

In the school’s pilot year for the program, for second- and third-grade students, the Barstow Bulldogs received the invitation after participating at the JrFLL Expo hosted by the College of Southern Maryland in December. This team is the only JrFLL team that attended the event from Maryland. Forty teams from the U.S., Canada and China were invited to participate at the JrFLL World Festival Expo, according to a news release.

The championship at the expo consisted of four different programs, consisting of 600 teams from 39 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Greece, China, Egypt, Peru, South Korea, New Zealand, Thailand and Slovenia, among others. Besides the Junior FIRST LEGO League, the championship consisted of FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST LEGO League teams, the release states.

The JrFLL teams are given a theme each year. They must complete a research project on the theme and create a LEGO model to illustrate their project, which must also include at least one moving part. This year’s theme was “Disaster Blaster,” and the Barstow team researched hurricanes, said Donna House, principal of Barstow Elementary. In addition to creating a pamphlet and backboard about safe practices, the team also built a LEGO model showing a neighborhood devastated by a hurricane. A spinning hurricane, made out of LEGOs, was at the center of its model and powered by a LEGO motor, hidden inside a LEGO house.

“We had some choices to choose from and we picked the one that happened the most in Maryland,” Ben Rachic, 8, said of their decision to research hurricanes.

“We created a hurricane out of LEGOs, and to make it move, we put gears that moved it clockwise and counter clockwise,” Marcus Washington, 9, said.

The team participated in various events at the World Festival Expo, including a judged presentation and a televised showcase for invited guests, House said. The team was awarded the “Solid as a Rock” award at the closing ceremony, for its demonstrated understanding and application of construction knowledge to design and create a sturdy and solid LEGO model. All JrFLL teams were given an award at the expo.

Marcus said his favorite part of being on the JrFLL team was working together with his classmates to make their project.

Nikki Tjiputra, 8, said she enjoyed meeting teams from other countries while they were at the expo.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it was like going to the LEGO Olympics,” Jennifer Rachic, Ben’s mother, said. “There was lots of unity and lots of fun. … It opens their eyes to all the world has to offer.”

“These guys already presented in December, so they had practice,” Shannon Strain, mother of team member Riley Strain, said. “It’s amazing to see them come together as a team and work together. … They knew their stuff, and they did great.”

The six students — Chyll Cortes, Andrew Seawell, Ben, Riley, Nikki and Marcus — were recommended by their teachers to participate on the team, said Kelli Short, a Barstow teacher and team sponsor.

Jennifer Rachic said there was a 99 percent chance the team was not going at all because all JrFLL teams have to apply to go to the world expo, rather than earn a spot by competing like the programs with older students. Out of 4,000 teams, the Barstow Bulldogs were chosen as one of 40 teams selected to go to St. Louis.

“That’s another reason why we were so excited because we knew how rare it was,” Rachic said.

House said the experience was “one of the highlights” of her career as principal.

She said the students benefited from participating in the STEM-themed program by seeing what science, technology, engineering and math fields are available for them when they get older.

“Seeing what’s all out there and what you can use those skills for,” House said. “All the possibilities in engineering and math that are open to them.”

House said Barstow will “absolutely” continue with the JrFLL program next year.

All the students agreed science and math are subject areas they are interested in pursuing further in school.

“It’s not just about LEGOS,” Nikki said of the experience. “It’s about doing research and teamwork and public speaking.”

snewman@somdnews.com