At Seaside Neighborhood School, working toward the annual robotics competition brings out the BEST in students.



Earlier this month at the BEST Robotics, Inc. Competition in Pensacola, the charter school swept the awards taking home five first place awards as well as the all encapsulating BEST award, which means they'll head to Auburn University for the regional competition that takes place December 7 and 8.



Every student at Seaside participates in the robotics program, starting in sixth grade. From the marketing, to T-shirt design to programming, theirs a job for everyone, said Principal Kim Mixon.



"All of the school is one, big team," she said. "As a science teacher and principal, I think it's an awesome program."



This is the final year that eighth-grader Hayden Stroop will get to compete in the robotics competition. Last year he tried out for the driver team and made it. This year he did double-duty as a driver and builder.



"I've been to all three competitions, and on the stage in the last two years," he said. "It's kind of heartbreaking that this is my last year."



As Mixon pointed out, with the BEST ญญ— which stands for Boosting Engineering Science and Technology — the lessons go beyond the robotics competition and robots. No matter what a student's skill is, it can be implemented into the presentation. Like Stroop, eighth-grader Caroline Murphy took on multiple roles as a programmer, oral presenter and part of the notebook committee, which documents the process to design, build and test their robot.



It seems that the BEST Robotics mission to boost interest in engineering science is working. Both Murphy and Stroop said they have considered jobs in the engineering world as a result of being a part of the robotics competition.



"I've always wanted to be a doctor," Murphy explains. "Working with robotics has influenced me and showed me what it would be like to develop products and I thought it was really fun."



Seaside students spent six weeks on their project before heading to University of West Florida for the sixth annual Emerald Coast BEST Robotics competition. The goal for each team in the competition was to build an 8 or 32-bit computer, which is accomplished in steps through each round of the event. 



While the work was all their own, they did receive some help from generous organizations and individuals who donated their time and knowledge. Destin Toastmaster's helped Murphy and fellow presenters work on their orating skills. Dan Brubaker, husband of Cathy, director of program development and evaluation, has even donated his time and even garage space to mentor students and offer work space. Working on Eglin Air Force Base, Dan had the science background that helped lead students to not only creating one, but two prototypes — although only one was chosen to compete.



"The engineering panel lend their expertise through asking probing questions that lead students in the right direction," Mixon explained.



Before Seaside, Stroop said he didn't know how to build anything. Now, he can say he's helped build a working, award-winning robot.



"The program expands your knowledge and gets you out of your comfort zone," he said. "I think this year we've done one of the best projects in all of my years at Seaside."



When they head to Alabama next month, Stroop already knows how he'll celebrate.



"I'm excited to go to Auburn" he said. "You stay at an awesome hotel, and usually all of the [robotics] drivers get together for breakfast at this one place that has the best Cherry Coke."