Advice for a team that has lost its school

Our school has let us know that they can’t sponsor our team (4183) this year. All of our returning students and mentors are interested in continuing with the team, even if it isn’t supported by our school. At a recent meeting, we discussed several possibilities for this year’s team including becoming affiliated with another school or starting our own non-profit organization and operating as a community team. Has your team had a similar experience? Do you have any advice, or ideas for how we can live long and prosper, despite the loss of our school.

Do you need a place to work? Or do you just need an affiliated school to receive funds?

Considering how much time you have, I would suggest finding another school you can work at or with for 2013. After that, I suggest becoming your own non-profit.

Realize that it will be an uphill battle, but keep the faith among the team that you will succeed in the end.

3096 was created in 2009 and since then we have had 2 school buildings, 2 build facilities (one was not at the school), 3 principals, and 3 different teachers. This year Finney HS is combining with Crockett HS to form a new East English Village Preparatory Academy in a new school building and new administration. We will probably have a new build facility… somewhere. And we were informed today that our teacher has been assigned to a different building. It is very easy to hang it up under circumstances like this, but you must keep the faith that you will succeed if you are to survive. People involved in the program will occasionally lapse, but you must support and encourage each other to deal with the immediate issues and persevere. I credit Tito Huffman for being the driving force that keeps 3096 alive and able to inspire.

Opportunities to succeed will present themselves if you can keep the faith.

I’m not sure if this is a problem for you, but one of the things that we do to always ensure that we are sustainable is we take in students from any school. We have people who are willing to drive over an hour just to get to our meetings, even during off-season. We also are based at our local university (college), and many of our students have ended up going to that university to study an engineering related degree. This is quite desirable for the university, as it firstly gives them more students and it gives them outreach opportunities through new means.

If it helps, our workshop for the last 3 years has been smaller than 2 pits, so whatever you have, you guys can build a robot =)

Good luck, and I hope that helps.

There is a third option - find another non-profit to be affiliated with. I know in our area there are a few 4H-linked teams, which helps with the insurance issues.

Good luck.

We lost our teacher sponsor and build space back in 2008 we tried everything we could think of and were about to move in with Team 179 (which is an option if a team will take you.), when we contacted our rival high school and found a sponsor and space to take us in.

Then after the 2010 season we lost the space and but not the teacher so we went searching around and found a space with one of our main sponsors and discovered that the insurance from the school extended as long as the teacher was there.

We lost that space after our sponsor was bought out and are now in our fourth build space in 5 years.

My advice to you is to try everything you could think of, as teams have built out of church basements or trailers in the past. We actually were going to build in one of our mentor’s garage if worse comes to worse

In a situation like this, I would pursue every angle I could.
That includes talking to other schools with no teams, talking to schools with teams about possibly merging, talking to machine shops about getting potential build space there, etc. If you limit yourself to pursuing just one of these things, you could end up wasting a good deal of time.
Start figuring out how much money you will need (including champs IMO, though most will say not to) to run the team if you get no help from the school and start applying for grants, sponsorships, and start fundraising.

It is going to probably suck but if you work your tail off, it is possible.

1002 started a team many years ago alongside Jeremy Roberts which consisted of kids from all over the area that went to schools that didnt have teams (or the kids were home schooled). They still exist.

If you get off the ground, one issue is to figure out how to be able to miss school for competition.
Thats my 2 cents. refer to this thread for low budget drive train ideas

I assume you mean that your school will no longer give you funds. If you still have a teacher mentor and a working space, you can become your own non-profit organization and get local companies to sponsor you. This is how our team works because we’ve never gotten any funding from our school, we are allowed to use our school’s shop though, because the shop teacher is our head mentor. If you have lost your shop as well, see if you can get a local company to sponsor you by letting you use their shop. I know this is how a lot of teams have to work.

Some answers to previous posts:

We do not currently have a build space, although there are several possibilities we are considering. However, we didn’t build at our school last year, so the biggest thing we lose from leaving the school is tax credit donations (about $5000 last year).

It is very likely that we will accept students from any school.

It has been suggested that we merge with a local science-education organization who donated build space last year.

Our school has never given us money directly, although it allowed us to make several thousand dollars in tax-credit donations. We do have a local company donating laser-cut aluminium, but I will look into businesses that may donate build space.

Thanks for all the ideas!!

I’m really sorry to hear about this. It was great to have you guys as our fellow Arizona rookies this past season. I wish you the best of luck in your search for a new home/sponsoring organization. Have you tried reaching out to any of the other Tucson area teams? There is really some great energy down there.

The lack of tax credits will be a big hit, but make sure to take advantage of Arizona’s other great recourse for FIRST teams: the vibrant tech industry.

Even if your school cannot directly fund you, as long as they recognize you as a valid club/after school activity/whatever, you should still be able to take advantage of their nonprofit status to allow sponsors to make tax deductible donations. That way you don’t have to worry about starting a 501©(3) or linking up with 4H or something of that nature.

4H is a great way to cover your non-profit status for fundraising and cover your team’s insurance needs. A church is another great non-profit partner as is local service organizations (Kiwanis, Rotary, etc…). We are covered by our church’s non-profit status.

Your next problem is build space. Sometimes a sponsor can help, a mentor’s garage, a local service organization (see above). These type of build spaces are somewhat less permanent than school provided space, so be prepared to be able to move on a moments notice. Our home is a 16ft utility trailer and our build space is a Boy Scout clubhouse sponsored by the Kiwanis.

Another problem is recruiting students. You no longer have club rush week, assemblies, school lunch breaks, and a captive audience to recruit from. On the other hand, you can recruit from all the schools in your area and home schoolers. Its just tougher to get your word out. Good thing is outreach is a fundamental exercise of a FIRST team and a great way to recruit students. Another good resource is mentoring FLL teams. Have a couple teams you mentor and you have a steady supply of trained students that are ready to step up to FRC.

A similar problem will be recruiting mentors. You no longer have the teacher or two from your school that you can visit at lunch time, or hold a club meeting right after school. You more likely will be meeting evenings and weekends to avoid interference with school activities. You will need to recruit mentors from outside your school.

There are also things that happen in FIRST that are geared towards teams that are in schools. Since most teams are associated with schools, this makes sense. For example, read the promotion for the Brandeis study, it is designed for teams that are associated with schools. Doesn’t really apply to community teams. Not a big deal most of the time, just don’t get upset when it happens.
You will also be competing with the school for the student’s time. Most competitions require some time away from school, when you are part of a school, you call it a field trip, get a bus, and go compete. When you are a community team, you are asking your students to take 1-2 days off from school as an unexcused absence (schools don’t like that).

There are upsides to being a community team, some I have hit on, more outreach, wider recruiting base, the need for more community mentors, fewer rules (and more responsibility viz. your own insurance), better control of your funds (and more responsibility), etc…

Good luck on your transition to a community team, it is tough the first couple of years, but a FRC team can survive and grow both inside and outside of schools.

A friend of my was helping an FRC girl scout team for the 2011 season, after the season was over the girl scouts had taken thier stuff and were told that thier parts and robot were going to be “inventoried” but in reality they were stopping the program for what reasons i dont know, the team moved over to the boy scouts and became a explorer post with brand new members and some students from the old team did return now they take in students from different high schools in thier district or surronding districts, they have alot more freedom but at same time a huge responsiblity finding sponsors and keeping fundings coming in

and they had a good season this year

As a community team, MOE has a standard form that our students use to get permission to miss school days to attend events. They have to return it to us signed by the school principal or guidance counselor. It has never been a problem.

We recruit in the spring for next year’s team (as we formally start in September) but you certainly can recruit now. Most of our team members come from either word-of-mouth (friends of past team members) or from our school demos. Every May team members arrange assemblies at their various schools to show off the robot and describe the program. There have been the occasional team member who found out about us at a community event, but that audience is typically younger than high school age.

2949 has always been a community team. In 2010, we needed a lot of money and we needed a place to work. All we had was a very small warehouse that was really just a storage space for VEX/FTC stuff and our supplies. We went out looking, and we found a company called Genesis Automation in St. Charles, IL. Not only did they give us a large space to work, including a very large machine shop, they became our main source for mentorship as well as sponsorship. They have been extremely gracious to us and we are very thankful. There one of the main reasons that we have been as successful as we have over the last 3 years. Now we got pretty lucky to find a company that provided work space, mentorship, and sponsorship. Having said that, you never know what you might find asking different companies for any of those 3 things. Just last year at one of the festivals we were at, we talked to a guy that ran a company called ACE Metal that did sheet metal fabrication. He looked at our 2011 robot, which had just a little amount of sheet metal on the drive frame, and said "oh, that’s easy. We could do that no problem. The following season we built 2 robots for the first time because of him and the entire thing was sheet metal, which cut down on cost and design time for us. Just contact as many people business people, primarily engineering/manufacturing, as possible and hopefully you’ll find some things that will pull you through.

As far as being a community team, I am a big fan of this setup. No limit as to where your students have to come from, much easier to spread FIRST in your community, and you don’t have to deal with school administration, just your own team organization.

I guess that’s my input.


Something I forgot on my comments, when transitioning from a school team to a community team, there will likely be contention over team assets like robot parts, tools, etc. I’ve seen this happen a couple times and it is usually a messy process.

Once you are a community team, asset ownership becomes better defined… Hopefully. As our team recently found out, you want to consider what would happen if your teams assets are stolen. They aren’t covered by your schools insurance anymore. Fortunately/unfortunately we expect ours to be covered by home owners insurance, not the ifeal situation.

We faced a similar situation last season. At the end of the school year, 2011, our only teacher’s program was terminated. Fortunately he was able to stay on as a teacher but we lost our classroom and our build room. We moved everything into storage. We started to seek out our own 501c3, and created our own non-profit with the state. Before beginning the process for the 501c3 we partnered up with our local community foundation. They receive our donations and grants and either purchase or reimburse us. We are still connected to the school so our students still receive excused abscenses. But we do not work at the school. We were able to find some local retail space in a mall that we are leasing at very good discount. We love this because it allows us to be able to actively promote FIRST in the general public as well as provide more opportunities to host events and workshops for the region.

My suggestion would be to at least have a teacher sponsor for the program to maintain that connection, but look for external space for meetings, build, workshops, training, etc.

Unfortunately, our school is not interested in working with us in any way, beyond helping us with recruiting. Therefore, we are unlikely to have problems with recruiting. Our main challenges are finding build space and money (and an organization to manage the money).

Have you considered, staying and fighting for your right to have a team?
Quite often the decision to drop a program is the misguided opinion of one or two school administrators. You might be able to find support elsewhere in your district and then approach those that are opposed in a positive way. Bringing more people into the conversation may convince the wider community that FIRST is a Win-Win proposition for your school.
You could gather local support and attend a school board meeting. You could enlist the support of other teams, your Regional Director, your parent groups, and make a pitch to those in charge. My advice is to gather allies and positive data then mount a strong and assertive, but respectful campaign, based on facts and results. FIRST and other local teams might be able to provide advice. You are not alone and you might be amazed at the support that you build, by speaking out in a positive way. It seems like you don’t have much to lose at this point. Don’t give up your school without a fight. It’s YOUR school.

You mean you are allowed to skip school to build robots?