In the Meadowview Magnet Middle School media center last Wednesday, one of the school’s three First Lego League teams worked on a skit for this season’s project presentation.
“Today we are going to perform a skit for you about the vulnerability and problems of K-9 units without bullet-proofs vest,” announced Landon Smith, an eight grade team member, addressing a panel of would-be judges.
The group proceeded to enact a K-9 assisted drug bust, which went south when the suspect pulled a gun on the dog to avoid arrest.
“Time out,” said Smith. The other cast members froze.
“This event happens too often. A police dog killed in action. These courageous canines help us in more ways than we realize, from detecting drugs to apprehending criminals. Unfortunately several canine units are killed each year doing their job.”
After other team members shared statistics about how many of the nation’s police dogs are killed in action each year, and how many of those could be avoided by equipping the dogs with bullet-proof vests, the skit resumed and concluded with a safe, vest-wearing dog (portrayed by seventh-grader Heather Messervy), and a suspect in handcuffs.
The K-9 Krew team, as they call themselves, has focused their efforts this season on raising money to purchase a bullet-proof vest for Erica, the newest member of the sheriff’s K-9 unit.
It fits in well with the national theme for this year’s Lego competitions: “Animal Allies.”
Project requirements include identifying a problem when animals and people interact, designing a solution that makes the interaction better for animals, people or both and sharing the problem and solution with others.
At competitions, teams are scored on the quality of the project and presentation as well as how their autonomous Lego robots, that they’ve programmed themselves, perform missions on a pre-arranged playing field.
Another component includes Core Values, a term coined by the organization to emphasize team work and character that should permeate every aspect of the competition.
“We were brainstorming, and we were wondering what is an easy way around us where we could have a high impact on society,” said Mason Kreh, an eighth-grade member of the team.
One of the missions on the board involving a K-9 unit captured their attention.
“We thought it we have a K-9 unit nearby, and if it did, does it have a bullet proof vest, because we figured out lots of canines have fatalities due to gunshot injuries.”
The K-9 Krew learned that the Surry County Sheriff’s Office had acquired a new dog over the summer who hadn’t yet been equipped with a bullet-proof vest.
They reached out to the sheriff and offered to help.
“We were just tickled to death to partner with them,” said Sheriff Graham Atkinson. “It’s good for us in that we’re now going to acquire this equipment for this K-9 that was not included in our original budget.”
The sheriff, the dog’s handler and Erica herself visited the school and demonstrated how the dog, which is trained specifically to detect drugs, does her job.
“It was a lot of fun,” Atkinson said. “When we were done with our demonstration they took us to their Lego project and demonstrated to us how all that worked. I think they enjoyed the dog and we really enjoyed their engineering project.”
Weatherly Reeves, a seventh-grade student, said that if purchased through a state contract, a bullet-proof or cooling vest for the dog would cost from $700 to $1,000.
The K-9 Krew held a fundraising “hat day” event at school recently, pulling in $110 from students paying $1 for the privilege of wearing a hat in school for a day.
They will also run the concession stand at a school dance on Dec. 9, (the day before attending a qualifying tournament for the state First Lego League championship).
But to improve their odds at meeting their fundraising goal of $1,000, the students approached coach Tammy Taylor with the idea of contacting the newspaper to let the public in on the effort.
“Businesses or just people in the community reading this article are more than welcome to contribute or donate to our cause,” Smith said.
Getting the word out also has another benefit, Smith explained.
“It’s good for the community members to know how the community is being improved,” he said.
The students on the team have all participated in First Lego League in past years, and have done well enough so that all three Meadowview teams advanced to the state championships.
But the group seems particularly invested in this project.
“I personally feel this one is one of the best projects we’ve done,” Smith said.
Reeves explained, “This is one that has the most effect on our community.”
Atkinson said he was impressed to see a group of middle school students conducting themselves as did the K-9 Krew.
“It was very encouraging to see bright young minds working that hard and being that excited about their project and about being involved with the community,” he said. “It was just a really good experience.”
To donate or contribute to the effort, call the school at 336-789-0276 or email Tammy Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The K-9 Krew Lego team from Mountainview Middle practices a skit demonstrating the importance of bullet proof vests for K-9 units.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.