Overcoming challenges of having an FRC team in schools and overworked teachers

disclaimer the following has absolutely nothing to do with 1403 or 3186. /disclaimer

What do you do when you have teachers/schools/school districts that aren’t fully committed to supporting a very competitive FRC team? What I am very interested in learning about is how teams went from school-based to community-based.

Here is the problem, there are many teams out there that have several pieces of the pie (usually 2 of the 3) students, teachers, mentors. But frequently because of an uncooperative school or overworked teachers teams miss out on serious opportunities to go out and do more FIRST. How do you over come this?

I know of several teams in my area and I have spoken to several teachers and mentors, about their current team situations. The obvious answer to their problems right now is that they need to change how their team is arranged with their school.

  • What kind of arrangements do you make?
  • How do you handle legal responsibility?
  • How did the transition happen?
  • What kinds of bumps in the road did you encounter?
  • Where does the team work now?
    *]Can you make this process scalable?
    Thanks in advance


There are a few teams around UD who have been through this process over the last few years, I recommend reaching out to them!

Innovators Robotics, FRC 3138, in Vandalia, OH was started as a 501©3 non-profit LLC right out of the gate because they were unable to drum up support from area schools. They have a build location at a sponsor’s tool shop.

Thunderhawks, FRC 1038, in Liberty Township, OH was evicted from our school last year when the technology program was killed in a round of budget cuts; we ended up forming an LLC to sustain the team outside of the district. We currently have a store front at the Cincinnati Mills mall where we hold our build and training sessions, which has worked out well. We also got plugged into a local community fund to assist with donations, this has enabled us to skip getting a 501©3, as all donations can come through the school or the fund.

I can hook you up with contacts at each team, just PM me if you want them.

I talked to 1640, sab-BOT-tage and they as well have created their own llc
From what I remember, the school was increasingly less supportive of the program. Eventually, they moved into a warehouse/machine shop that a sponsor generously allowed them to use. As an organization, in addition to FRC costs, they also have to purchase insurance and whatnot. It probably helps that they also have a decent amount of mentors who devote their time to the team

Yes. To be specific:

What kind of arrangements do you make?
When we first had to leave in build season of 2008, we had no arrangements. In 2011 “Downingtown Area Robotics, Inc” registered as our own non-profit (non stock) in Pennsylvania, to include our FRC, VEX and FLL teams. We’ve worked with a STEM 501©3 owned by our lead VEX mentor to handle donations, and are currently working on acquiring our own 501©3 for 2013.

How do you handle legal responsibility?
Downingtown Area Robotics, Inc has liability insurance that includes riders for all locations/situations in which we work. We currently split this cost between FRC, VEX and FLL fundraising. We also build “parent trust” factor with open communication and meetings and school-like travel permission forms.

How did the transition happen?
In 2008, our original school district went on strike in the middle of build season. The school-team relationship never returned to the pre-2008 situation, though the district did let us move back in after the strike for a couple weeks and then found us a home in an unused vocational lab and then an unused warehouse. When that warehouse went on sale, we moved through a few (very) short-term stays with the district before striking out on our own with the gracious support of Waterloo Gardens, who has let us work in one of their unused warehouses for this year. This warehouse is also on the market.

What kinds of bumps in the road did you encounter?
We’ve been in 11 homes over the past 5 years, and our current one is also on the market. We ran into confusion in registering as a corporation as well as continued difficulty in 501©3 tax-exempt registration, which makes some sponsorships difficult. There are some sponsors and grants we’re simply not eligible for without a stronger school relationship. The lack of a teacher also poses difficulties with in-school recruitment and relationship-building. We as mentors have also learned more than the pre-2008 versions about teaching and teacher style issue-handling.

Where does the team work now?
As above, we (FRC and VEX, occasionally FLL) work in an absolutely wonderful (and huge) vacant warehouse provided by Waterloo Gardens. We heated it ourselves (portable heaters) in the winter, but they cover many utilities (as they’d need to keep the pipes from freezing anyway). It also helps with their insurance, as vacant warehouses aren’t a favorite of many insurance agencies. Unfortunately, it’s up for sale, and we are looking at other sponsor opportunities as well as moving back into a school district or Intermediate Unit building.

Can you make this process scalable?
I wouldn’t recommend making our exact process scalable, but I think the school club --> corporation/501©3 with sponsor home transition is quite doable.

As far as mentors are concerned I’ve found that if you can find the right teachers from other districts they are often very happy to help out.

Sometimes teachers from the same school don’t like the idea of remaining at their day job for what could be a 14 hour day. So sometimes you need to shop the idea around a little.

Also as far as community support is concerned with careful time management you can often soften the blow for outside companies. I know several companies that had to withdraw support from FIRST not because they don’t like the program but because it dragged down on them in particular too much.

Shop around the community and ask for little commitments of resources and most importantly do that year round.

You’ll find people’s garages, malls with indoor areas, people with small home shops and businesses just about anywhere that can support a team and if you don’t push them too hard you’ll grow. Also don’t forget to ask other nearby teams. Often veteran teams are extremely helpful. I know Team 11 has cooperated often with nearby teams.

I also strongly recommend making sure you take care of your business issues like setting up legit charitable organizations. The less support you have from existing infrastructure the more important it is that donors and the community at large know you’re legit.

There are several robotics ‘schools’ popping up in Northern New Jersey right now. Privately held organizations with students of the high school and younger ages. I almost ended up in a weekly situation teaching at one. It occurs to me that such ventures run quite parallel to the direction of U.S. FIRST and joining yourselves together might have good symbiosis.

Another angle is to try to starting out slower than FRC and work with FLL. As an FLL judge for the last few years I find that these groups tend to be smaller and more self-contained. Getting the students and parents involved at that level might directly fertilize support within both the schools and the community. Don’t discount even home schooled folks, we’ve had a few pop up with FLL teams at competition and that’s a great opportunity for them to interact socially and with the community.

Just remember this is a community experience. The schools are wrong to be protective over these sorts of things. They serve a function to that same community and they should be thrilled that the often over-expensive vocational programs they are often shutting down are being picked up in part by community resources. As a vocational student myself I can say that schools used to ask the community what they needed from students and sometimes they delievered. Through FIRST those same businesses are far more actively engaged then just talking about what they need.

Great advice, we’ll probably be needing it soon, as we’ve been moved from our usual build room to the upstairs storage “boneyard” at our school. No electricity, no security, and even worse, no AC :ahh:

Moving to a community based program seems to work best for the teams that I’ve talked to. While some amazing schools districts are very supportive, many grants are not available to teams entirely based in a school or a district, and like mentioned in one of the posts above, school budget cuts can really hurt a program. I know that 1891 is working on a nonprofit to manage our funds, and that seems to be the most successful method.

First of all, i’m sorry that your team has to go through all this. My team has been there before and we sure understand how stressful the situation can be.

We were asked to leave our shop at school last year because they wanted to have wood shop to make frames for photography class :rolleyes: the school promised to find us a place, but moths passed and kick off was just around the corner. At the time we didn’t know who would be our school advisor, because the only one we had the year before said she couldn’t commit to so many hours anymore.

So we decided to become a 4H team :slight_smile: Now we are part of a community program and we are still tied to our school, but because we are a 4H team we can now have students from other High schools. Currently we have students from 9 different schools and home schools. We can also meet at a different location than at school without a teacher or district member having to be present, which has been amazing! because sometimes…specially during the last days of build season, we need to keep working on the robot for a couple of extra hours and now we don’t have to make a teacher stay with us 'til we are done.

Our team found a working place just a week before kick off this year. The Masons let us use the basement of the Delta masoninic Hall and it works just great for us. It’s about a 15 minute drive from our school, but we carpool with our mentors from school to our shop and then back home whenever we meet.

Our coach and our mentors are professional people that work as engineers, accountants, electricians at places like Boeing, Visa, Esterline, Amazon. They believe in our team and in FIRST and are as passionate about it as we are. We are really trying to make our school get more involve with the team. Currently we only have 1 person at school as our advisor (she lets us know about club days and school activities we can participate in) and we also have a study lab teacher that let us stay in her room after school working on homework when we need it.

Our principal came with us to st. louis this year and was amazed at what he saw over there. This Friday we will be part of an assembly for the 1st time this year.

I would suggest finding your local 4H progarm and getting involve with it. It will help you guys grow more as a team. Don’t give up on your school. Find different ways to get the principal’s attention. I strongly believe that the challenges we’ve gone through have made us stronger not just as a team, but as a family.

Remember NETWORKING is the key. Make as many connections as you can. The summer is coming up and that’s a great opportunity to volunteer and do fundrasing activities. Let your community know that you are there. I CHALLENGE you to make people want to help your team succeed. If you need any help with ideas just asked :wink: we’ll be here to help with anything we can.

If you do branch out on your own, don’t forget to make sure you still have insurance coverage. If the school doesn’t cover you you will have to find your own. There are organizations that will cover you (4-H comes to mind).

We pay for our own insurance to cover the teams and our off-season events. Coverage isn’t just for accidents but also (and in some ways more importantly) for mentor liability. No one thinks it will happen, but just picture the consequences if your mentors are sued by a parent for a student’s injury (or worse).

Do a search on the lawsuit over a cheerleader’s death in Hawaii in 2008 or so if you want a reality check.

She’s abolutely right! and yes 4H will cover insurance :slight_smile:

As stated, this has nothing to do with Conor’s teams.