NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A team of middle schoolers from Norfolk Collegiate will compete in an international STEM competition at the state level later this month.

However, it’s more than bragging rights. The students are not only designing, programming and creating robots, but they are also brainstorming ways to give back to the community by increasing inclusivity at local parks.

The international competition is called the FIRST LEGO League.”

“We do a project, we design a robot and we solve missions on the table,” said eighth-grader Austin Hrisko. “It’s really fun.”

This year marks Hrisko’s third year on the team, which looks different from prior years because of the pandemic.

“To solve this problem, we have practices in school and we let the virtual people Zoom in, and then we have virtual practices three to four times a week,” said Hrisko.

Every year, the competition has a theme. This year it’s to get more people active.

The first component of the competition is the robot, which seventh-grader Luke Hahne really likes.

“I really enjoy working with robots because, like, it’s fun to be able to make something and see, like, how it works like when you line up all the gears and you line up the engineering code, and it just does a mission,” said Hahne. “It’s just a really cool thing to be able to say that you did that.”

The second component of the competition is a project. The team decided to focus their project on local parks, brainstorming ways to make them more inclusive.

“Some of those ideas are like merry-go-rounds with seats for people with disabilities, adding more sensory panels for people with cognitive disabilities,” said Hrisko.

Faculty mentor and teacher Ellen Alt says she’s there to help the students, but the majority of the work is left in their capable hands.

“They’re the ones designing the attachment, they’re the ones practicing with the coding, and they’re the ones saying ‘This is what I want to do’,” said Alt.

Because of the pandemic, the competitions are all done through Zoom and video submissions. The state round is coming up Feb. 27-28.