As many of you might have heard, there has been a major (7.1 magnitude) earthquake in Christchurch New Zealand. NZ is one of the closest countries to Australia, and the two nations are very close politically and socially. (When the nations were being formed, NZ almost became part of Australia.) FLL is no exception to this rule. Recently, I got the chance to speak with Jason Kyle, the Kiwi operational partner, about FLL in NZ and what effect the earthquake has had on the program.
Me: To start off with a fun question, what is your favorite flavour of ice cream?
Jason: It depends on what time you ask me. My current favorite flavour is French Vanilla, but it depends on if it has chocolate sprinkles and what’s in the freezer at the time.
Me: What is your role with FIRST LEGO League?
Jason: I’m the Operational Partner for New Zealand.
Me: What does that entail?
Jason: A lot of work actually! The entire organization behind FLL in NZ, including the financial aspects, planning, and giving estimates to LEGO Education about team numbers so they can put some numbers into their manufacturing estimates. Working hard on trying to promote the events in NZ and get more teams involved. Organizing all the volunteers and providing training for all the judges and referees. And finally, putting it all together in tournaments.
Me: Sounds like a lot to do!
Jason: Well, I thought I better stop, there are a few more things in there!
Me: How has FLL affected your life?
Jason: In multiple ways, my spare time–which I didn’t have–is now less!
Me: Were any teams affected by the recent earthquake in Christchurch?
Jason: Yes, the earthquake has had an impact in Christchurch. There has been one team that has pulled out of the event, because the teacher in charge is unable to put the necessary time in. She is also a bit stressed with other issues to do with her home. In addition, they’ve lost time with the schools being shut down for over a week. So she came to the conclusion that it was just going to be too much this year, and I agree with her.
Me: What about the new tournament in Christchurch?
Jason: We have decided, in conjunction with our tournament director down there who is a wonderful person named Jill Pears, that we want to take the pressure off all of the teams down there. We also want to help the organizers so that they’re not working to a fixed tournament date at this point in time. We’ve decided to postpone their original tournament date. And we’ve agreed that their tournament will not flow into the national championship in Auckland NZ. We cannot have that variable timing driving our championship timing. If any teams from the Christchurch area want to compete for the Champions Award and an invitation to the World Festival, they are welcome to come up to Auckland for the tournament to be held there on November 6. There are perhaps two teams from Christchurch and Dunedin who are interested in doing that.
Me: So, from what I understand you were in Atlanta this past year for the World Festival. What did you think of the competition there?
Jason: I quite enjoyed seeing all the FIRST competitions there under one roof. That was quite exciting having so many people interested in doing the same thing and being very successful at it. I enjoyed taking my ten-year-old son, Shaun, around the pits, he was very keen to see what was going on when people built robots out of something other than plastic. And, I found the way the World Festival is staged is certainly well beyond anything I would have anticipated.
I’ve been involved in event organization and sound and lighting for a bit, it surprised me just how much was behind the staging of the World Festival, even from just the tech perspective. It was beyond what I would have anticipated. Very effective.
Me: What’s up with the crazy hat?
Jason: I sort of a got the impression that wearing a crazy hat was mandatory and I kept looking at the operational partner’s manual that I got from FIRST to see if I could find the bit that said it was mandatory. However, apparently it is not! I asked the operational partners in the US when I went to the partner training conference in Manchester this past June, and it seems it may not be mandated, but it is certainly expected that an Operational Partner will stand out.
Me: Is there anything else that you would like FLLers around the world to know?
Jason: I would really like to focus on Christchurch, the resilience of the people down there is quite high. I had actually gone down there the day before the earthquake. I’d taken my kids down there for a Robocup Jr. soccer final. We got woken up by a big shakey earthquake! It was all quite exciting for a while there. And I had planned to do an FLL coach training session after the Robocup Jr. tournament had finished. However, the Robocup Jr. tournament had to be cancelled because most of the other people from around the country couldn’t actually fly in because the airport was closed. I did the FLL coach training session for those who were there from around Christchurch and Dunedin. So there we were, about 4 hours after the big earthquake in a hall doing an FLL coach training session amongst all the aftershocks and so on, which kept interrupting me explaining the missions. That gives you an example of their dedication. I would really like to acknowledge all of them. The vast majority of people down there have not even gone through an FLL season.
Me: That’s incredible to me!
Jason: There is certainly a lot of commitment in Christchurch.
For more information of FLL in New Zealand, please visit their website at www.kiwiwfirst.org