​School Board Hears from Winning SOCO Team

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Feb. 12 meeting of the Franklin County School Board, the SOCO Lego League team demonstrated their winning project. Composed of students from Cowan Elementary School and South Middle School, the team placed second in a field of 48 at the regional competition. The students designed a prototype for a combination water filter and lead detection alarm for installation on the school water fountains.
The First Lego League program for students in grades four through eight ignites interest in robotics and STEM (science, technology, electronics and math). In keeping with this year’s theme hydrodynamics, the SOCO team designed, built and programmed a robot that competed on a tabletop playing field performing tasks ranging from replacing a pipe to flushing a toilet. For their service project, the team researched and found a solution to the problem of lead in schools’ drinking water supplies.
Learning that all schools built before 1990, meaning both Cowan Elementary and South Middle School, posed a potential hazard from lead pipes, the students tested the water with a home kit, and skeptical about the results, sent it to Tennessee Tech for verification the water was safe. The prototype combination filter-alarm flashes green and shows a Smiley face if the water is safe; if not, the device flashes red, shows a toxic-eyes image, and shuts off the water.
The students’ multi-tiered research ranged from tracing the path of the water from the point of entrance to projecting the cost of their filter-alarm device, $350. They also wrote their Congressman asking them to enact legislation guaranteeing the water in school fountains was lead free.
At the regional competition, the SOCO team demonstrated their prototype device and provided an overview of their research.
“They not only learned robotics,” said Toni Barnes, SOCO coach and fifth grade teacher at Cowan Elementary. “They learned teamwork, perseverance and public speaking.” Clark Memorial and Rock Creek Elementary also participated in the Lego League program. “Next year’s challenge is space,” Barnes said.
Turning to regular business, Board Chair CleiJo Walker said the textbooks under consideration for adoption were available for public viewing in the meeting room at the Board of Education, 215 S. College St., through Feb. 28.
The board approved budget amendments to account for additional Basic Education Program revenue to cover the increase in insurance costs and revenue from contributions to the Campora Center ranging from food and shoes to tutoring services.
Walker asked board members to submit their self-evaluations by the last week of February, so they could be reviewed in early March.
At the March 5 working session, the board is expected to address proceeding with plans to construct a consolidated middle school. In May 2017, the board voted to replace the two aging middle schools with a single consolidated school. In the debate leading up to the vote, the Franklin County Commission indicated they would not approve funding to build two new middle schools, but the commission made no explicit commitment to the means of funding and level of financial support for a consolidated school.
Sewanee school board representative Adam Tucker said he recommended the school board and county commission meet to discuss the options.
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