Saint John’s students lead the way in robotics


Saint John’s students lead the way in robotics
Carlos Contreras, one of the captains for Pioneer Robotics 12589 at St. John’s High School, shows the framework of a robot. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

SHREWSBURY – The group of Saint John’s High School students gathered around a table in a ground-floor room of the school’s Ryken Center.

After commenting on what made them grateful that day and sharing a prayer, the students began their assignments.

The students are members of Pioneer Robotics 12589, a team that competes with other teams in eastern and central Massachusetts.

“They’re so well engaged,” said Edward Tonelli, mentor of the robotics team and instructor of engineering and physics.

He cited the team’s success and willingness to help others learn about science, engineering, technology and math (STEM).

“We had a kid come in seven years ago and say ‘We should have robotics.’ We put him through all kinds of hoops [to see how serious he was], and then we went to the headmaster,” he said.

One year later, the team was started by Class of 2019 members Victor Szabo, Ryan Rivard, Maxwell Vinzi, A.J. Claybourn, Millan Taranto and Syon Khosla.

The team’s skills have led to some major accolades in its six years of existence. This includes two state championships in 2019 and 2021 and a world championship in 2019.

Saint John’s students lead the way in robotics
Some of the awards earned by Pioneer Robotics 12589 in its six years of existence. The team has collected two state titles and one world championship along the way. (photo/Maureen Sullivan)

This season

Pioneer Robotics 12589’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) season is underway. This year’s challenge is to design, build and drive a robot that can traverse the course, pick up a small cone, lift it to a certain height and drop it onto a pole.

All in a set amount of time.

“I’ve been in robotics as long as I can remember,” said senior and co-caption Tejas Balaji. “I started with LEGO robotics, and I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

The team participated in scrimmages at Winsor School in Boston, competed in Lexington and picked up an Inspire award along the way for being the team that best embodies the “challenge” of the FIRST Tech Challenge program.

The team is working toward the state competition, which will be held in early March at Natick High School.

To prepare for competitions, the team uses two robots — one is used in competition, and the other is a “scrimmage bot” used to try out programs and driving.

Freshman Ryan Pergola is the programming leader. His task is to help make driving the robot simpler. Using a game console to control the bot, he kept an eye on a computer that detailed a “control scheme” to do just that.

Back at the table, next to the competition robot, a student showed a special aligning tool with a touch sensor designed to better grab the cones. The tool was made with the help of the freshmen members of the team Ziyaad Hoosen, Charles Maki and Cale Jackson.

“The opportunity to create … that’s always a team aspect,” said Balaji.

Also present is the team’s inspiration — the “#Crater Bot” built when the team began.

“I went to an eighth-grade open house, and the crater bot was the first thing I saw,” said senior Carlos Contreras. “This is an amazing program.”

Saint John’s students lead the way in robotics
Members of Pioneer Robotics 12589 at St. John’s High School begin work on their competition bot. In front is #CraterBot, which was created when the team formed six years ago. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

In his freshman year, Contreras joined the school’s Robotics Club, where he learned the basics. He is now in charge of the club.

“We learn to build chassis, and we try to teach kids applications,” he said.

To join the Pioneer Robotics 12589 team, prospective members have to undergo a tryout.

“It’s very competitive,” said junior and co-captain Rohil Mohan.

In addition to the club and team, Saint John’s also has a summer program in robotics and engineering.

“All of us started in summer camp,” said Rohil. “That’s how I was introduced to robotics.”

Saint John’s students lead the way in robotics
From left: Ziyaad Hoosen, Rushil Mohan and team co-captain Tejas Balaji show a special aligning tool so the Pioneer Robotics 12589’s robot can better grasp a small cone. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)


Pioneer Robotics 12589 does more than build robots for competition. They help others learn about robotics.

The team has a community outreach program, teaching robotics skills to students at St. Bernadette’s School in Northborough and the Nativity School of Worcester, among others.

The team has also established three FIRST LEGO teams in the region.

“I was in the FIRST LEGO League, and that’s when I realized I like robots,” said Rushil Mohan, a junior and Rohil’s twin brother.

“I love the opportunity to teach kids,” said Rohil. “I’ve made a lot of really good friends.”

Saint John’s students lead the way in robotics
Ryan Pergola, back to camera, works out a program with a “scrimmage bot” on a practice course at St. John’s High School. The bot is programmed to make its way around a course, pick up small cones and place them onto poles. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)


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