Updated! Robotics Students Denied Trip to VEX World Championship

Great news! The team got the full funding for the trip! Now all that needs to happen is a special meeting by the board to vote yes. Thank you so much for all your support!

I don’t typically talk about robotics on my blog, but today I couldn’t keep myself from typing up this post. I hope you’ll join me in reaching out the Norristown school district especially if you live in the Philadelphia area. Don’t let 5 kids whose dreams were realized lose the opportunity of a lifetime.

I’m not a soccer mom, I’m a robot mom. More than that, we’re a robot family. My husband spends countless hours every week volunteering to run our local robotics club, Downingtown Area Robotics also known as VEXMEN. Over 100 middle and high school aged boys and girls gather together each week (and many weekends) to build and compete in VEX Robotics. My son has been active in the club for three years, and I can say without a doubt it is one of the best experiences we have ever had as a family. It has given my son (who is not athletically inclined) an activity he can not only participate in, but excel at. It has given him so much more than that, but it’s hard to put into words without dissolving into tears. (If you’re a parent you’ll understand the tears from seeing someone so in their element)

A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to attend a local robotics competition my son was competing in, and my husband helped run. I don’t often get the opportunity to do this, but because it was local and our younger kids are finally at an age where they can all come along without too much wrangling I stuck around until the end.

It was the last match of the season. The last opportunity for teams to earn a spot to the World Championship in April where they compete against other children from places as far away as China. Two teams work together to win, and I watched as my son’s team helped another team from our club secure a spot to the World Championship. (an honor his team had recently been awarded as well) I watched as another local team who has been placing in the top 5 at every match had their hopes dashed. My husband filled me in on how awesome the team was, how hard the kids had worked, and you could see how much the mentors (coaches) wanted it for their kids.

Then came the awards, and one last chance for the team from Norristown, PA to earn a spot to the World Championship. As their name was announced as winner of the Excellence Award the team went forward to accept their award and pose for photos, and every one of them teared up. They hugged, and high fived. It moved me so deeply to see how passionate they were for the game.

Watch video of the team accepting their award

Sadly the team won’t be able to go to Worlds because the School Board denied their request to go. No reason was given by the School Board. The team was not asking for funding, they had planned to fundraise to pay for their expenses, and the families would likely chip in as well. Instead these children who worked so hard all year long were denied the request to attend.

It is  unbelievable  to me that at a time when kids and schools really need this type of extracurricular activity the school board would deny them the ability to compete. The school board should be  congratulating  them for working so hard, and bringing awards home to their schools.

Will you help me by raising your voice in unity with these kids? They need to know that people stand behind what they are doing, what they worked so hard to achieve. Help me support the kids from  Eisenhower Science & Tech Leadership Academy in Norristown, PA.

To reach out to the school board visit the school district site  or contact the secretary at klally@nasd.k12.pa.us, and also take a minute to give  them a phone call at  610.630.5000.

Update: To clarify the school district sponsors the team, so the board must approve of the trip or the kids won’t be able to attend.  

Update 3/15/2012: Still no response from school board on their reason for saying no to Team 255a. NBC Philadelphia aired a wonderful piece at 4:30pm on the students including interviews from the students, parents, and mentors. With a deadline looming for registration, please keep calling and emailing.

Update: Norristown Patch covers the robotics team’s denial, and once again gets no response from the school board.

Video from NBC10:

View more videos at: http://nbcphiladelphia.com.

Video from ABC Philadelphia:

Update: March 16th Some good news! VEX extended the deadline for the team to register which means they have until Tuesday. The school board is meeting on Monday night so local families, taxpayers, and supporters (including me!) will be attending to make our voices heard to the school board.

Fox News is coming out to do an interview this afternoon.

People have asked lots of great questions, and I’m trying to respond with the information I have. The school board was apparently quoted in one piece (though they have remained silent to other reporters)-I’m searching for that piece online. Other folks have asked why the team can’t just go without the school board’s permission. The parents of the kids will not be attending-the mentors will. The mentors are teachers who work in the district, thus they need approval from the board to attend and act as mentors to the kids. Please believe me when I tell you these mentors would do just about anything to go to Worlds with their team, but they shouldn’t have to be in this position. If you have other questions leave them in the comments and I’ll try to respond.

I’ve also started a petition per my friend Michele’s suggestion. You can sign it here.


Board member Al Mauthe on record: “Board member Al Mauthe said a majority of the board was not ready to approve the trip and that some members had questioned how the robotics team boosters were independently raising money for the trip. “It looked like to us as if the hat was being passed around,”Mauthe said. “I think the majority of us felt that we did not want to send the kids.”” Full story

Thank you,



About Kelly

Kelly Whalen is the founder and editor of the Centsible Life blog. She started the blog 6 years ago as her family faced a mountain of debt. The blog became a resource to readers and a hub for everything you need in life for less. Kelly lives in the Philadelphia area with her superhero husband, 4 awesome kids, and one adorable dog. She still believes you can have it all....just not all at once.


  1. says

    I’m a student from team 1360 in Florida. While my team and I surely haven’t experienced many problems with funding before, the VEX World Championships this year was quite a costly trip! I know just how much of an honor it is to be invited to the World Championships, as my team has been twice, I am appalled that funding would be denied to a team. I’m glad that you could make it, though, even with the funding problems. (p.s. Could you tell the VEXMEN that they still owe us girls on the Vibots a dance off? We never got around to it this year.)

  2. Hstarlo says

    Hi folks! I am part of the Downingtown Robotics Club and have been involved in this issue from the start. Your words of encouragement and the actions you have taken are very much appreciated by the teachers and students of the Norristown Robotics club. I’ve been advocating on behalf of the club as much as I can, and like Kelly, plan on being there Monday night for the Board meeting. Not only has this issue had repurcussions through the school and school district, but this has impacted the community in a very positive way. I have been told by a very reliable source that this has taken on almost historic proportions! Much of the community knows about this or has heard about this and they have all expressed their support. It has brought a troubled community together to stand as one . . . all for a small group of kids who built a little robot.

    This has garnered the attention of 6ABC, NBC10, The Times Herald, Philly.com, and the Norristown Patch. With the interview today by Fox 29, we could not have asked for better publicity – both for a “Cinderella”-type robotics team and for a town in desperate need of some positive outcomes.

    I don’t think I’m being presumptuous when I say, on behalf of the roboteers and their mentors at Eisenhower Science & Technology Leadership Academy – Thank You!

  3. Cmachiela says

    Something is fishy here.   It sounds sooo political.   It is obvious they don’t care about these kids.   I pray that you guys will have the biggest turnout at the school board meeting that they ever had   in history and have school board officials foolish faces be televised to the whole world.   I wish I could be there!!!  

    By the way, are these school board officials elected or appointed.

  4. says

    Clearly the kids planned to sell drugs and hold illegal raves to raise money, right? #sarcasm
    How sad that they made such a negative snap judgement. So great of the competition folks to extend the deadline and awesome of you to bring so much energy to right this wrong. I hope for good news on Monday!

  5. Jennifer Casazza says

    Strange that channel 6 didn’t focus on the fact that they can’t go because the school board won’t allow them.

  6. Coreen T says

    How ironic…when I clicked the link to the Norristown website, one of their SAT Words of the Day was “disappoint v. To fail to fulfill the expectation, hope, wish, or desire of.” Count me in. I will contact them tomorrow (as it’s too late today).  

    • Michele says

      Yeah, i noticed that too! I mentioned it in my e-mail to the board secretary.  i hope they change their minds…

  7. Slaforet says

    I’m a robotics coach in Texas and have not only posted this on my fb, but sent an email to your district.   Shame on them!

  8. Laforetenator says

    My mom is a Robotics Coach for her elementary school. I will sign it and I will have her sign it plus pass this along to every person on her facebook.

  9. says

    I sent an email too.   I hope the kids are able to participate in the competition or that the board at least explains their rational.   I assumed it was a budget issue but when I saw that was not a factor, I was stumped as to why they would deny them the opportunity to compete.

  10. Michele says

    I just sent an e-mail to the Board Secretary:  


    I am writing to you today regarding the Board of Directors’
    recent decision to NOT allow the Norristown Robotics Team to attend the World
    Championship, in which the team has fought so hard to earn their place.   It is my understanding that the BoD did not
    release any reason for their decision.  
    It is also my understanding that the Robotics team was not requesting
    any funding, merely the permission to attend the World Championship.   I cannot conceive of any reason to not allow
    the team to be granted this wonderful and validating opportunity.   It is no secret that the Norristown School
    District has struggled in the past with its academic reputation.   Of course, things are improving every year
    and the school district (and no doubt the Board of Directors) have made strong
    and wise decisions in recent years that have begun to turn things around.   It is therefore baffling to me, and countless
    others, that they would make the decision to deny the team the right to attend
    a hard-won World Championship.   I can’t
    imagine that the BoD doesn’t realize that allowing them to attend the
    Championship would demonstrate to the Robotics team,  not to mention all children in both the
    Norristown School District and surrounding districts, that perseverance and
    intelligence are valued and rewarded.   I
    also can’t imagine that the BoD doesn’t realize that having their team attend
    (and possibly win) the World Championship would boost the reputation of the
    Norristown School District as one that produces and supports aspiring engineers.   To say that their decision is disappointing
    and confusing would be an understatement.  
    Publicity is growing around this issue, thanks in large part to online social
    networking.   I’m sure that this is not
    the first, nor the last, letter you’ll receive regarding this matter.   There will soon be (if there is not already)
    an online petition crafted to challenge this grievous decision.   It is likely that any advantage that the BoD
    has imagined would follow from this decision will soon be overshadowed by the
    growing disillusionment of countless families in the region.   Regardless of how little the BoD seems to
    value the Robotics team (and Robotics in general), they are indeed valued far
    and wide and are supported by many voices that will rally behind them in the
    coming weeks.  


    On the Norristown School District website this morning, one
    of the SAT Words of the Day is “disappoint”, and the definition reads as
    follows: “To fail to fulfill the
    expectation, hope, wish, or desire of.” 
    I find it both ironic and sad that so many students and families are experiencing
    this today.   It is my
    sincere hope that the BoD recognizes its mistake and rectifies it before it’s
    too late.   The World Championship is
    approaching, and the Norristown Robotics Team deserves to compete.


    Thank you,

    Michele Munoz-Miller

  11. says

    As a parent with several non-athletic kids, I appreciate your perspective on finding something that they can participate in. I can’t wait for my 8 year old to be old enough to participate in our school’s Lego Robotics team.

    I do think it stinks that the school board said no without giving any reason. They end up appearing capricious to the kids without explaining their reasoning. The kids are less likely to feel like their best interests matter to the board.

  12. Deb4074 says

    We took the time to send an e mail. It’s so sad that these kids are not being recognized for there achievements.
    Deb long beach, ca

  13. Linda Herzberg says

    I sent an email because I know how important this is. This is what I sent:
    I do not live in your district, but I have 3 grown children who are all
    mechanical engineers. My youngest was into robotics so I know what a difference
    this made in his life. I have several points for you to consider:

    Bright children are at just as much risk to drop out as those who are at the
    low end of the IQ spectrum
    Bright kids need activities to challenge them
    Non-classroom activities related to school help keep children involved and
    engaged in school
    Do you keep the athletes from going to activities such as championships?
    What values are you showing as your priority for athletes and for academic
    In my children’s district, they praised the athletes in the school board
    meetings before the academics and sent the message that academics were not as
    important as athletics – are you?
    What are you telling those teens about the way decisions are made if you
    do not give a reason for denying them the trip? – that you are not willing or
    able to tell them why? – that you don’t care? Do you want to send that

    Just some food for thought.

  14. says

    No reason? Are you serious? I agree with the online petition and I’m sharing with everyone I know.  

    What a great way for the school district to show the kids their support.

  15. says

    The School Board didn’t provide a reason? This makes no sense. And how horrible. Those poor kids. They could be denying the next Steve Jobs a great learning opportunity. This is so sad!

  16. says

    Had you thought to create an online petition (like the ones at change.org) and ask for signatures?   I’ll be tweeting this for sure, and sending the link to this blog post to those people I know who don’t “do” social media.      

  17. says

    These are the kids that will change the world someday, if they aren’t beat into the ground before then. *sigh*

    I think this quote sums it up perfectly:

    “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.” – Mark Twain

  18. Rose_a_powell says

    I’m sorry to hear what happened to this team, my daughter recently participated in two competitions, one locally and one Roboticon and they didn’t qualify. I find it very sad that the team earned that entitlement and it is being stripped away from them. I see the excitement in my daughter’s eyes as she works on her robot, talks about their plans for the robot, tears when it wasn’t working, joy when it was, it was one of the more rewarding experiences that I’ve encountered this year, an eye opener. I would have been very happy if her team made it, so I can understand the children’s frustrations and emotional states. That is so disheartening!

  19. says

    I shared via Facebook and Twitter. Like many, I really do not understand school boards. Far too often, they’ve turned into a bunch of  bureaucratic  cronies. These students should be the pride of Norristown! And there should be an explanation, not silence. Thanks for writing this Kelly.  

  20. LTV Mom says

    Let’s be honest, if the World Championship was for basketball, baseball or football… those kids would be packing their suitcases. You (and your team) have my support.

  21. says

    The Norristown is not the most fortunate in the county.   These kids deserve this opportunity, I just don’t get it.   Every kids should be able to celebrate there accomplishments and no school board should be able to take that away. I will call tomorrow.

  22. says

    What in the world? I can (maybe) see a school board denying a trip when budgets are tight, but with no reason and the kids fundraising the whole trip? It makes no sense and is so sad. I hope that some publicity will make a difference.  

  23. says

    What a beautiful blog post! Having dealt with the school board when I was only in middle school myself (also fighting for something I wanted), my recommendation is to have the young people petition the board directly with the support of the local community. Ask for the reasoning and what can be done to make this happen. Not only is it far more powerful than adults from outside the community making a statement, but it’s a great educational experience for the kids as well.

    • Rochelle says

      Hello and Thank you so much for caring for the youth of Norristown. Is  am 4th generation Norristown. My grandmother was a teacher here for 46 years. I emailed the school district today with a reply from Ms. Lally that she passed my email on to the school board President and the Superintendant.($400) a month car allowance. When most of the kids here cant afford to eat…Anyway. I am greatful to see so many people from   outside of Norristown stand up for   these 5 kids. I sent a fax today to Tyler Perry to ask for help raising the money to make this trip possible for these winners! Thank you.   Please send a fax also and let’s see   if we can get his attention!
      Tyler PerryThe Tyler Perry CompanyPMB 140541 Tenth Street NWAtlanta, GA 30318USA(404)355-6870 fax(404)658-9191

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