The Girl Botz of Larson Middle School in Troy earned several awards in their first season, including the Inspire Award at a regional competition, the Motivate Award at the state competition and the Compass Award for team coach Judy Bunao.

The Girl Botz of Larson Middle School in Troy earned several awards in their first season, including the Inspire Award at a regional competition, the Motivate Award at the state competition and the Compass Award for team coach Judy Bunao.

Photo provided by Judy Bunao

Larson Middle School ‘Girl Botz’ distinguish themselves in first year of competing

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published January 10, 2024


TROY — An all-girls robotics team from Larson Middle School closed out its first year with a trip to the state championships.

The Girl Botz, Team 22918, advanced to the Michigan FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics State Championship at Macomb Community College Dec. 8-10. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

One of nine FTC Robotics teams from Larson Middle School, the Girl Botz also distinguished themselves by winning several high-profile awards this season. One was the Inspire Award, earned at the Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association regional championships at Pontiac International Technology Academy Dec. 2.

“The Inspire Award is the highest robotics award,” said team coach and mentor Judy Bunao. “They give it to a team that best embodies the ideals of FIRST. They promote gracious professionalism as the main trait of teams, so the Inspire Award indicates that you are professional on and off the field. They give nine awards during tournaments, so winning this says that you not only are one of the top contending teams but the most well-rounded team.”

The Girl Botz also won one of the highest honors at the state championships called the Motivate Award.

“The Motivate Award is the team that best made FIRST known in the community,” said Bunao. “It involves bringing FIRST and STEM awareness to the young, schools, communities and local businesses and informing them about the ideals and mission of FIRST. … We really made an effort to collaborate and work with the parents on the team.”

Bunao was also honored for leading the team to such achievements and for being the co-founder of the team this season.

“The Compass Award is given to a mentor who was a leader who gave guidance and support to their team and helped them become an inspiring team to others,” she said. “Since I founded the all-girls team in December, I have supported our girls even during the off-season. I brought them to enriching activities and worked to spread STEM and FIRST. I tried to give them hands-on experience even though it takes extra time. I wanted to teach them to do the work rather than do the work for them.”

Her daughter, eighth grader Ella Bunao, was one of the members of the team and said that being recognized for the hard work she and her teammates have put in during the past year was very gratifying.

“It feels very nice to be recognized like this. We are the first all-girls team at Larson Middle School,” said Ella. “We put in so much hard work the last few months. We did 168 outreaches, where we reached out into the community and performed service projects or helped out in the community.”

Ella went on to say that what set their team apart from others was the level of commitment they had to working hard in competitions and in how hard they worked to improve their community.

“I think what separates our team from the other teams in the league is how much we impact the community with our many activities and service projects,” she said. “We try to inspire as many people as we can.”

Judy Bunao said that the team took on several projects to help others.

“What I am most proud of is that we have a lot of ongoing projects. Fall is the main competition season, and even though it ended on Dec. 10, we are very proud to say that we have projects throughout the year,” said Judy Bunao. “We partnered with an all-girls high school team from North Carolina to invite teams from Mexico and Turkey. We all look for sponsors to buy us STEM-related books. We do this by approaching women in STEM in the community. We fill the books with inspiring messages from women in STEM and then donate the books to feeder schools so the students there know that there are paths forward in those fields.”

Other projects were aimed at helping the local Troy community.

“There was a little free library outside Larson Middle School. They needed someone to take care of it because the girls who had taken care of it moved on to high school, so the Girl Botz took over responsibility for it,” Judy Bunao explained. “We also partnered with the nonprofit Lasagna Love, which pairs needy families with families who can help support them. Our team helped in three ways. We watched food safety videos and cooked together as a team. We then delivered the meals to these families and we then held an ingredient drive.”

Ella Bunao thinks that robotics teams are a fun and interesting way to put lessons in subjects like engineering and computer programming into practice, and also a fantastic way to get involved in the community and have a great time with friends.

“Students should join robotics not only for building robots but to become a better student, to learn more about mechanics and what the engineering details, finding solutions to problems and getting involved in the community,” she said. “You learn to try different things and never give up until you get a solution.”