AUSTIN (KXAN) — A high school in south Austin is flying high after three teams from its drone club qualified for a chance to win a national championship.
The Harmony School of Excellence and its 14-student drone club earned enough points at recent qualifying events to earn their spot for a national championship.
Drone competitions consist of various events, such as autonomous flying, where students have to use code to tell the drone what to do during the competition. Students also have to fly their drone through different obstacles, and there is even a game similar to soccer where students have to use the air from the propellers of the drone to score a ball into a goal.
The school is identified as a Title I school, meaning it does not have the same amount of resources as other area high schools. The club trains in a makeshift obstacle course that is setup in a hallway outside the classroom of computer science teacher Joshua Gandara, who is also the coach and creator of the club.
Gandara said the tight quarters help students become resourceful when they train.
“They’re a lot more prepared than other schools maybe. So I think it’s a really good teaching lesson for them,” Gandara explained.
Preparing for the future
The drone club is just two years old and Gandara explained it is already having a positive impact on the students.
Gandara said students have already approached him about applying to colleges that have science-and-technology-related fields of study because of the club.
Ian Davila, a senior at HSE, said he wants to become a programmer one day. The drone club has allowed him to gain hands-on-experience in coding during the autonomous flying competition.
“I tell it to go at a specific velocity and at different heights, and when to stop and land,” Davila explained.
The coding is also extending to other fields that students are interested in. Mallak Ahel, a senior at HSE, wants to enter into the medical field one day and she is learning valuable skills in the drone club that can prepare her for that career goal.
“It did help me learn more about coding, which the medical field has a lot of new techniques coming up,” Ahel said.
The club is pretty evenly split between boys and girls. Gandara said he pushed to have more girls in the club to get them interested in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
Preparing for the championship
The team continues to train and prepare for the next obstacle, the national championship.
“It’s something new for all of us, so it’s very exciting to just be apart of it,” Gandara said.
The national championship will be held in Flint, Michigan this year in May.
The school is trying to bring ten students to the competition and they have started a GoFundMe page to raise money for travel expenses. Their goal is to raise $3,000.