With school now back in session, many students are being asked the eternal question: "What did you do during your summer vacation?"
For a group of talented students at Randall Pepper Elementary School, the remarkable answer is: Winning one of the top prizes at a prestigious event on the other side of the world.
On Aug. 9, Randall Pepper held a special assembly to celebrate the historic achievement by the students at the World Robot Olympiad Friendship International Competition in Denmark.
"It was really exciting," said Mariah Torres, one of the team members. "It was my first time being on an airplane."
Indeed, it was the first time ever that a group of elementary school students from Fontana had traveled internationally for a competition.
The Randall Pepper team, also comprised of Alex Cuamatzi, Heydi Pena, Daisy Santiago, and Mario Lopez, qualified for the European trip by taking first place in a robotic championship held at Southridge Middle School earlier this year. The local students had achieved a perfect score of 150, making them the No. 1 team in the entire United States in their division for building and coding robots.
Team coaches Alice Strout and Jeff Rich said they were very proud of the students, who ended up having technical problems that prevented them from claiming the grand prize for robotics during their stay in Denmark Aug. 1-4. However, the students came away with an honor that was just as significant -- a "friendship" award.
"In round 2 of our competition, we had an accident with our robot that caused it to break, and while the kids did all they could, we could not recover so our robot did not win," Strout said.
It was a disappointing development, but it did not deter the students from succeeding in another challenge.
"What we learned is that while we are all very gifted in engineering, we are all very different -- in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the languages we speak -- but kindness is universal," Strout said, "and helping one another compete and complete challenges as we become friends was the entire purpose" of the competition.
The Randall Pepper 8- and 9-year-old students collaborated with students from Nigeria and Germany to complete many different tasks and come up with a team slogan to represent what they learn about each other as they do them, Strout said.
The team members finished all of the tasks in the challenge and their winning slogan was “3 Teams, 3 Countries, 1 Friendship."
"They embraced friendship, accepted differences, and made the world a little better just by becoming friends," Strout said. "There are so many ugly things on the news back home in the states, and it fills my heart with hope to know we are here with children, letting them become friends with kids from all over the globe so that we might one day find the peace and love for humanity this world needs."