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The Complex of Overnight Activities
December 13, 2022
“I loved going on overnight activities for high school clubs like Speech and Debate or Robotics. I felt like the best team bonding always happened on these trips… They left me with great memories and learning moments which I reflect upon even now as a Clayton graduate,” Pablo Buitrago, a Clayton Alumnus of 2021, said. After two years of COVID, when extracurricular activities finally seem to have restored their previous outlook, Clayton students have nevertheless noticed a general decrease in overnight extracurricular activities.
“This year we are only attending the regional competition in St. Louis,” Jennifer Adams, the Robotics co-coach, said.
In previous years, the CHS Robotics team (AKA the RoboHounds) had registered for 2-3 regionals, competed in Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kansas City, and gone as far as Palm Beach, Florida. RoboHounds built and programmed their robot BOBOT to complete multiple challenges that include but are not limited to climbing a wall, carrying objects, and throwing balls. BOBOT as a 120-pound robot is not any conventional LEGO toy, but a machine about the same size as a 5 ‘4’’ person.
“Because these competitions are multiple days long, any regionals that are not in St. Louis will turn out to be an overnight event for the team,” Hannah Moon, a Junior in Robotics, said.
In general, the more regionals the team could participate in, the better chance they have of getting to the World. At the same time, overnight regionals come with their own costs. With a $6,000 event registration fee per regional competition, the cost of the Robotics team per season is approximately $20,000. In the 2015 session, however, the cost of the team was around $54,000.
“For overnight activities, the coach’s or sponsor’s PTTE [Part Time Temporary Employment] stipend does not adjust. If teachers need a substitute in their classroom, they enter their absence in Frontline Absence Management and the system will find them a substitute to cover the classroom. This is for any absence a teacher has entered,” Dr. Tony Arnold, the assistant superintendent of human resources in the Clayton School District, said.
Though the District gives some support to the Robotics teams, it is of a very small scope of the total budget required to run a club of this scale. “The overnight events are entirely supported and paid for by the coaches. Sometimes the coach has to pay for the substitutes for classes, so the coaches can go,” Adams said.
In addition, besides the teachers’ stipend, Robotics actually doesn’t have a budget, according to Steve Beauchamp, the co-coach of Robotics. To cover this huge expense, RoboHounds have had big fundraisers like the Chili Cook-Off in addition to sponsorships with Boeing, Daugherty Business Solutions, the Optimist Club of Clayton, Clayton PTO, Clayton Education Foundation, and Clayton Alumni.
The resources aren’t there
“The coaches have been running the club off of our own money, our own organized connections, our own time… I spend a lot of my own money on the program. I do it because I think that the program is like none other. It’s amazing. It changes people,” Adams said.
Starting in January, building the robot has taken RoboHounds nearly every night after school until six o’clock. Spending all day on Saturdays, the team would also come in on Martin Luther King Day or other holidays to work.
In a typical season, an easy 500 hours or more is what each of the three coaches put in. When considering this workload and the stipend, ranging from $2,128 to $5,928 that averages to 4.26 to 11.86 dollars per hour, “the coaches are worried right now that when we go – which we won’t be here forever – the program will not be sustained,” Beauchamp said, “I can’t just tell another teacher that now you are going to put in some 500 hours of work and effort just for that amount of compensation.”
“The resources aren’t there,” Adams said, “for a nationally recognized program to run, the district can’t assume that volunteers and parents are going to do it. I don’t know a profession where people would do that… When people do things pro bono, they do it because they love what they do… But if you take out the key people that care about it, it falls apart – there is no program anymore.”
Furthermore, the liability that sponsors assume for taking students to competitions also weighs on the coach’s decision with overnight events. “We don’t have clear guidelines on how to travel with students. [For example] who can be together and what room are appropriate forms of communication. Right now, this is another thing that we’re trying to get clarification on. It seems the liability to the teachers has increased. In this situation, I’m traveling with students if I put my career on the line. I just can’t do it,” Adams said.
“I am willing to do things for kids. I want to do things for kids. But, you know, if there’s too much personal liability, I don’t want to put my career on the line for you know, for an extracurricular activity,” Beauchamp said.
Starting last year, Adams and Beauchamp presented to Arnold the scope of the robotics program.
“I think part of the problem is that the District has not realized how big of a program Robotics has become,” Adams said. In 2013, the Robotics team started with nine first-year “rookie” members and has since grown to a team of around 60 students. In previous years, RoboHounds have won regional championships countrywide. And they have qualified for and competed in the World Championship three times in Houston, Texas.
The robotics program is currently under re-evaluation, a process in which the District is reassessing the resources that are needed and provided to Robotics.
I think there has to be a balance between our market competitiveness and the internal equitability on how these clubs or programs are funded.
“I think there has to be a balance between our market competitiveness and the internal equitability on how these clubs or programs are funded. The PTTE stipends are available for many aspects that fall outside of the traditional professional responsibilities of the teacher. Regarding budgets for the sponsors to have for their clubs, fundraising and booster clubs are standard practice in public schools, and even in private schools as well. The District is currently reviewing a variety of factors on the PTTE stipends, ensuring that we’re being fair, equitable, and competitive within our market district data,” Arnold said.
For this reason, the robotics team is cutting back their expenses to be only based on the current budget that the school allows them, thus why they are not participating in any overnight competitions this year.
“I don’t want the problem to come off like this is about money, because it really isn’t. I love the program. I think it’s an amazing program for our kids, and I’m willing to continue that. I want to continue. The problem is that we want to build sustainable programs,” Beauchamp said.
“Robotics was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. It was amazing to be a part of the collaboration and problem-solving within our subteams, which reminded me of why I wanted to pursue STEM,” Moon said.
“I went to the overnight in Peoria, Illinois last year. It was definitely a very busy experience, but it was also fun. As the driver, I liked attending strategy meetings because it was good to know what I should do during matches and what other teams to pick for alliances,” Katie de la Paz, a senior in Robotics, said.
“We want a legacy. Our existence here at the school. Robotics is important for the students, so the district needs to understand that they have to put the resources toward it,” Adams said.
II. MODEL UN
Every Thursday, students meet in Room 130 to discuss current events for Model UN, where students serve as representatives for a country in a general assembly or as part of a crisis committee. From the experience with Mr. Solomon in Wydown, many middle schoolers when moving up to high school chose to continue pursuing this activity. In 2019, they tried to find Amy Doyle and Paul Hoelscher to be the sponsors of the club.
“For Model UN, no real structure is there… There’s no MSHSAA connection to it – there is a high school state association, [but] there’s actually very little competition that’s built-in,” Hoelscher said.
Different from other clubs, Model UN does not fit in the conventional system where the team moves up the rank through competitions, instead students attend conferences and improve their skills. For this year, Model UN had already been involved in the WashU Conference that happened from September 31st through October 2nd. There are two additional smaller local opportunities later in the year that they plan to take.
“We already have a lot of opportunities here locally. So we don’t see a need to go to competitions out of state… And we have a lot of room for growth and improvement… In the WashU Conference, we have not ranked or medaled. So we don’t really need to fly across the country to get our butt kicked,” Hoelscher said.
For the students who attended the WashU conference, they recalled it being one of the best experiences that they had in the club. And they wanted to have another similar national-level conference.
“I have talked to the teams that have medaled during the WashU tournament. All of them have been to competitions all over the country and are much more experienced than us because of it,” Jaylyn Lin, a sophomore and a second-year member of Model UN said.
So now the problem is that we want and are able to go to out-of-state competitions. But our sponsors don’t want to.
While at the same time, overnight competitions take a huge amount of time to prepare for. “For overnight competitions, we could look at it but it usually takes a lot of money and a lot of planning and we don’t have any plans at this point. Nor do we necessarily have anything budgeted for that,” Hoelscher said.
The Model UN students have reached an agreement within themselves on the budget side of the problem. “We can fundraise ourselves… So now the problem is that we want and are able to go to out-of-state competitions. But our sponsors don’t want to,” Lin said.
Unlike other extracurricular activities, Model UN never had a precedent of ongoing overnight competitions. With what it takes to make overnight competitions happen, “I think there’s lots of room to grow just in terms of right here in the St. Louis area,” Hoelscher said.