Umatilla FIRST Robotics Students Make Voices Heard on Issues


Two students from the Umatilla FIRST Robotics team, 4125 Confidential, during the summer attended the AASA Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.. with Superintendent Heidi Sipe, who serves on the AASA Executive Committee.

Sipe travels to D.C. annually for advocacy, with travel costs paid by the AASA. She frequently takes board members, staff, and students with her to state and national meetings in an effort to bring community, staff and student voice to state and national conversations. For the second year in a row, AWS has funded the student portion of the trip to Washington, D.C. Last year, student Avery Gutierrez and teacher Megan Lorence attended.


Oregon and local educators and students during the summer of 2023 visited Washington, D.C., for advocacy. From left are Beaverton School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas, Tigard-Tualitin School District Superintendent Sue Riekke Smith, Corvallis School District Superintendent Ryan Noss, Umatilla High School teacher and robotics mentor Kyle Sipe, Umatilla School District Superintendent and robotics mentor Heidi Sipe, U.S. Sen Ron Wyden, and HUS sophomores J. Rincon and Gael Valenzuela. (Photo courtesy of Umatilla School District)

The mission of the students was to advocate for change and make their voices heard on issues that matter to them and their community. Sophomores J. Rincon and Gael Valenzuela met with Oregon’s lawmakers to discuss issues such as slow internet service in rural areas, free meal programs for students, and Federal support programs for robotics and science, technology, engineering, art and math.

They talked about their experiences with these issues and others in their community who face similar challenges. They emphasized how important it is for low-income families to have access to free meal programs, which provide them with nutritious meals throughout the school year and during the summer.

They also stressed the need for reliable internet access for students taking online college courses from home. They expressed that every student should have equal access to online resources and tools.

In addition, they were excited to share with legislators and representatives from Amazon Web Services their robotics team and how robotics has impacted them and how robotics and STEAM programs help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and prepare them for future careers.

Their visit to the capitol not only gave them the opportunity to advocate for their community and surrounding rural communities, but they said it gave them more insight into policy making and how important legislators are to Oregon. “It helped me understand more of how that type of work happens and what all they do,” J. Rincon said.

While on their trip, they were able to take a tour of Washington, D.C., visiting the Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial and the White House. Reflecting on their experience, J. Rincon shared, “It was really fun, and I enjoyed talking to the legislatures and House of Representatives. They were all really cool.”

Gael Valenzuela said, “It was awesome. It was a good experience for me and J because it really showed us a lot of the opportunities there.”

They were very thankful for this opportunity brought to them by their Club mentors, Heidi and Kyle Sipe, and to AWS for sponsoring their trip. They “felt very lucky” for this experience and believe more students should be given these opportunities, as it’s important to get students’ perspectives, as well.

Superintendent Sipe echoed appreciation, “I can advocate for students and staff, but when I can facilitate students and staff to advocate with their own voice, it’s far more meaningful and impactful. I appreciate the sponsorship from AWS to make this opportunity possible.”

Kyle Sipe, teacher, also was, very thankful for the opportunity to visit D.C.

“Our students will excel if they are placed into a situation where they need to rise,” he said. “In this case our kids were able to tell their stories about changes that need to happen in our community. Thanks to AWS, these students were able to rise up and tell their stories to make very needed changes.”


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