Quail Run students win award for spirit, teamwork and respect at international competition

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Lawrence fifth graders Esther Kong and Sarah Song took their STEAM project on the road last week and scored big by bringing home the Core Values Award from the FIRST LEGO League Challenge in Houston, Texas.

The contest for youth from all over the world challenges participants’ skills in science, technology, art, engineering and math, or STEAM. Esther and Sarah’s project was inspired by monarch conservation, which they’ve learned about through their research and volunteerism for the locally based nonprofit Monarch Watch.

152 FIRST LEGO League Challenge division teams vied against each other in robotics, innovation and core values activities, according to an announcement about the competition.

Representing their team, The Three Moons, for the Kansas City region, Esther and Sarah proudly marched to the stage when the emcee announced them as winners of the Core Values Award for the MASTERPIECE Challenge.

Contributed Sarah Song, left, and Esther Kong celebrate after they were announced winners of the Core Values Award on April 20 during the FIRST LEGO League Challenge in Houston, Texas.

The competition’s awards list describes the honoree as the team that “displays extraordinary enthusiasm and spirit, knows they can accomplish more together than they could as individuals, and shows each other and other teams respect at all times.”

KC Kong, Esther’s father, said the experience was rewarding. He shared a summary of the judge’s comments, which he thought reflected some of the reasons why Esther and Sarah were chosen for the Core Values Award.

The project judges complimented the team’s diary, which records all the project’s activities during the entire season, Kong said in an email. The judges loved the sticky notes team members wrote at each meeting and that they shared something they learned during each session.

Contributed Esther Kong and Sarah Song

“They were surprised that the team reached out to more than 800 people, which illustrates how they share with the community. They also like the way the team made the origami butterfly,” Kong wrote, referring to community outreach team members conducted at Lawrence Public Library and other sites from Topeka to Lee’s Summit.

Esther and Sarah’s families accompanied the girls to the four-day competition in Texas, which was attended by 50,000 people.

“They were a little shy but they had so much fun and exciting experience, meeting many people from different countries,” Kong said. “They are excited about next season, which is about the ocean.”

Kong thanked community members for supporting the girls with encouragement and $1,000 in monetary donations toward the project.

He said the team used the donations to purchase giveaway items such as buttons, butterfly magnets and bookmarks. They did not use the funds for travel or hotel costs, and they will donate any leftover funds to Monarch Watch, Kong said.

Meanwhile, the girls are excited about future competitions, recruiting local teams and conducting more community outreach about monarchs.

During Monday’s Earth Day events, they tabled at the library. On Friday, they’re making a presentation about monarchs to Quail Run’s first graders, and they’ll volunteer at Monarch Watch’s upcoming open house on May 11.

View more of The Three Moons’ work online by visiting the Kids Zone they developed for Monarch Watch at this link and a game they’ve launched about life cycles at this link.

Contributed The Three Moons team displays their project booth and learning materials in Houston.
Contributed The Three Moons team visits with a team from Korea during the FIRST LEGO League Challenge in Houston, Texas.
Contributed The Three Moons takes a photo with a team from Morocco during the robotics competition.
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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