Teacher shows students success through teamwork; inspires community through achievement

May 20, 2016

Today’s educators navigate a myriad of challenges. Funding, classroom size, standardized testing are but a few. In addition to these wide-spread issues, teachers in San Luis, Arizona – a small town on the Mexican border – face their own unique hurdles. Here, where 99 percent of the population is of Hispanic origin, many do not speak English. Of these residents, many perform seasonal field work to support their families. These factors can make it challenging for parents to participate in their children’s education.

The following is a story of one middle-school teacher who, with the support of his district and funding from Cisco Systems, broke down these barriers and helped his students accomplish an extraordinary achievement that engaged the entire community.


Mehulkumar Gandhi, a math teacher at San Luis Middle School (SLMS) since 2009, had no experience as a coach. But when his principal, Rafael Sanchez, encouraged him to start a FIRST® LEGO® League team at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, Gandhi jumped right in.

He immediately reached out to the San Luis community for support, enlisting local maintenance workers to construct a table on which the team, the “Scorpiotics,” could practice. The season’s project theme, TRASH TREKSM, engaged students to explore the hidden world of trash, from collecting to sorting to smart production and reuse.  It tasked teams to choose and solve a real-world trash problem; and also to build, test, and program an autonomous robot to solve a series of sustainability-themed missions.

Students solve problems through creative collaboration

When it came to building the robot, neither Gandhi nor his team of seventh- and eighth-graders had any experiencing with programing – but they worked together to figure it out. For his part, Gandhi found the most effective method in inspiring his students to succeed was to give them freedom to find the resources they needed to learn for themselves.

What the students didn’t realize is that while they built their robot, they were building so much more along the way.

“They built up a tremendous confidence,” Gandhi said. “I told them to believe in themselves and their potential.” He added that students gained better communication skills, they became better collaborators and critical thinkers, “and they learned all of this by working as a team.”

For the project portion of the challenge, the Scorpiotics designed a vending machine that accepted empty plastic bottles and gave out rewards for recycling. Their goal was to motivate other students to clean up the San Luis community by using their invention. Gandhi solicited the help of a vending professional to teach the team how real-life vending machines work.

“I was really impressed by their hard work and dedication,” Gandhi said of the team, who worked extra hours on the weekend to perfect their project.

Hard work pays off

In December, the Scorpiotics attended their first competition – along with nearly 40 other teams in the Yuma area, 20 of which were also supported by Cisco. Though they got off to rough start, the team secured third place for their robot missions and took home top honors by winning the Champion’s Award. This award recognizes a team that embodies the FIRST LEGO League experience, by fully embracing its Core Values while achieving excellence and innovation in both the robot game and the project.

In just a few short months, the Scorpiotics went from being a rookie team to the champions of the Yuma County Qualifying Tournament.

“I am extremely proud of my team,” Gandhi said. “I learned that although many goals are hard to achieve, with team work, they are not impossible.”

What’s next?

The experience has improved the team’s academic success, according to Gandhi. In fact, some team members have already passed the ACT (American College Test) and are applying to attend a robotics program at John’s Hopkins University. In addition, their success has helped spread awareness about the importance – and usefulness – of science, technology, engineering and math skills through the San Luis community.

As for the team’s future in FIRST, Gandhi and his students are hooked. With the help of grant money for new teams, he has already registered the former Scorpiotics for the next level: FIRST® Tech Challenge. They are now known as FIRST Tech Challenge Team 11070, “ScorpioTech.”


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