How would I save my FRC team?

Hi all. COVID-19 is hitting our team hard, we aren’t having any meetings this year. Our team’s mentor is leaving our school soon. It’s not looking good, how could I help to get the new teacher/a new mentor on board next year, and how can I put together some funding? Thanks all.

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talk to your principal/school board? maybe get students together and write up a report of how it has positively impacted your lives and the lives of others and how it will continue to do so. you could even go as far as to attempt a business plan to show self sustainability in the team that includes things like how you do fundraising and where your money goes. ask for help securing a new lead teacher/mentor. or even reach out directly to teachers you think may be interested. im certainly no pro in this nor have i ever had to deal with such a situation but this feels to me like a good place to start. i wish you guys luck in your endeavor. i know i wouldnt be where i am today without FIRST and i hate the idea of young students missing out on it because they couldnt find 1 mentor.

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Even? This is the bare minimum.

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I hate seeing these posts.

FRC 4607 has had a long history of creating and mentoring teams. My biggest fear as COVID-19 was rearing its ugly face was the attrition of teams due to mentors burning out/finding life outside of FIRST and a lack of funding through sponsors.

I have to admit, I have entertained the idea of retiring myself for most of the spring/summer. My two boys are now more interested in sports and I love watching them play and being a ‘dad’ for the first time in their short lives.

However, hope springs eternal and very recent events have reinvigorated myself in light of new possibilities. My eldest (who was once a die-hard FIRST fan until unruly happenings during his time as a volunteer at local MN FRC regionals extinguished his desire) asked today if we could still run a FTC team with me as a mentor. HE WANTS ME TO MENTOR HIS TEAM! For those of you with kids - you know the feelings I have following this!

All of that being stated - the teams that we have founded and mentored are strong BECAUSE we were able to create a strong network of teams through the HAC’s we worked with. In our early years of starting and mentoring teams we did lose two teams - but that was due to loss of mentors - not funding.

So back to the OP - a dedicated mentor is the first step. Charters and Business plans are great documents to work from, but if you do not have a mentor to help champion your team, it is VERY difficult. Not impossible, but you do need an adult to carry on the workload. There is a reason for #Mentorbuilt… at least in the way that FRC 4607 runs our team.

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If you are a school based team - at least one dedicated teacher is a must.
There are two teams in my school district. One team has two dedicated teachers who work with and promotes their team. It is well supported by the admin.
The other team does not have a dedicated teacher that promotes the team. They seem to struggle with team recognition and recruitment (which is sad, because they are a very competitive team).
A dedicated teacher that shamelessly promotes the team is a must. I wouldn’t suggest asking the admin for help. Any teacher they suggest is being “voluntold” to be your mentor. They might not be as dedicated as you desire.
Your members will probably know teachers who are more willing to help.

I completely agree with @Chief_Hedgehog, I hate reading about teams that have folded or on the verge of disbanding. Sustainability is probably the single biggest problem for teams.

It might be a bitter pill, but perhaps stepping down to FTC is an option with lower costs and lower time demands that might preserve something with the hope of returning to FRC in the future.

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Using my team as an example… this isn’t really a “must”. We would love to have a teacher involved with the team again, the two we had in the past were awesome. But life got in the way, and both of them had to step back from the team. We haven’t had a teacher or school administrator directly involved with the team for years, and it hasn’t hurt our recruitment or involvement.

It is entirely possible to get one or more teachers to “shamelessly promote” your team without having them involved as a mentor. If they aren’t interested as a mentor, then recruit them as a sponsor - they give an in-kind donation to the team. They encourage students to join the team. They give out extra credit for attending events to cheer the team on. They can go to bat for you with the administration in a general “we should be supporting this program” way.

Target your teachers that would have some interest in the program, even if they can’t commit to mentor - math, science, comp sci, wood shop, etc. If you’re working on things like Chairman’s, ask your english teachers to proof your essay. If you have teachers or class that are big on public speaking/presenting, have them offer feedback on your chairman’s presentation. You aren’t asking them to commit to being a mentor, just asking for a couple of hours of their time to help you out with something very specific.

Do that, and you’ll start to have a much bigger impact across the school than you would with a single, dedicated teacher acting as a mentor. You start to show multiple teachers your passion, what the team does and how it teaches people and how students can grow in it, and you’ll develop a lot of support, even from teachers that would typically have no impact in STEM. You can do all of that without having a teacher directly involved as a mentor.

All that said, having mentors really is the first step towards building a sustainable team. Don’t limit yourself to looking just at teachers. Look at parents and look at your sponsors. You might be surprised who you can find when you let them know you’re in need! Make it clear to everyone that you aren’t looking to replace a single mentor - you want to build a team of mentors. Being the only mentor for a team can be a lot of work, and be pretty intimidating to people. Being part of a team, on the other hand, makes it look much more reasonable.

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Yes, we’re also sort of wavering right now. We have most of the key ingredients. A good base of returning students and a batch of new recruits ready to step up. Four or five dedicated mentors and several more niche “utility infielders” for specific tasks. We’ve accumulated a good stock of spare parts and more to the point, knowledge. We have enough money in our account for at least one “Mac and Cheese” level season even if our sponsors struggle, and ironically a couple of them are in business areas that are doing well. But…we are leaving our long term off site build space. The school has built a brand spankin’ new STEM center and we have to negotiate our place in it. Pretty much everyone agrees we belong there, and it would solve a number of nagging issues for us. Heck, the additional student work hours spared by not transporting kids adds up. But interest among the teachers is very tepid. I know they have a lot on their plate but they are also very territorial about what they see as “their” space. We’ve been holding back a bit to see if in person school will even continue, but there is a significant chance that we may go under due to…lack of a storage closet and a set of keys to the shop. Sad when we have so many of the “ingredients” in abundance. Work to do, and the advice about approaching the school board is not sufficient in a system where administration mostly decides and the board just approves things. Sigh. Fingers, not wires, crossed.
T. Wolter

I should have stated that we are completely school based. We have a large bay as our shop/lab (45’x60’). Without a dedicated teacher, I am certain that we wouldn’t have this space.
I should refrain from using absolutes. There are always (usually - still learning) exceptions to the rule. Perhaps I should have stated “one dedicated teacher is strongly recommended”.

Moving to a less demanding robotics program will keep your team building robots without the financial burden of FRC. Other teams have followed this path with success.

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Like most problems - identify the outcome you want and figure out steps to get there.

If your goal is “keep an frc team” those steps are vastly different than if the goal is “ensure students have access to programs designed to inspire stem careers”

Can you achieve similar results to your frc team with lower cost or even home brewed programs? Are there other groups you could collaborate with locally?

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This was what Garnet Squadron had to do in the fall of 2016. Over the span of a few months, they lost their top three mentors to out-of-state career moves (different jobs and states, too) and the lion’s share of their funding. They’d already planned to drop their FLL teams for FTC as a feeder program, but they had a decision to make: one more starvation 1-event season of FRC with what was left in the bank, or just do FTC and stretch that for some time to come. They took the latter path, and they’ve thrived as a top-tier team in the state.

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My advice would be to recruit as many people as you can, and reach out to their parents for mentorship and/or company contacts that could get you sponsorships.
Parent mentors have been incredibly helpful and essential for 5700’s survival.
You could consider CADing a second robot for infinite recharge to help get new members interested, or doing some other virtual activity to prepare your team for a (eventual) season that can also help get new members invested in the team.

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