Mrs. Arrington was awarded her Woodie Flower's Finalist Award at the 2010 Sacramento Regional (read more about it here). The following is her nomination essay:
Helen Arrington is the sole founder, passionate mentor, and enthusiastic leader of the Leland Robotics team, and she has been involved with FIRST for 10 years. Since team 604’s inception, Mrs. Arrington has attended robotics engineering classes on her own time to better prepare herself and the team for the upcoming build season. She gives up her weekends, weekdays, holidays, and even supervises overnight sessions to run robotics, all without pay. She continues to encourage people of every age, gender, and ethnicity to join robotics teams in their area; her desire to touch as many lives as possible through her love for science and technology is remarkable. She exemplifies “gracious professionalism” and dedication, volunteering at every FLL, FTC or FRC tournament in the area.
Mrs. Arrington’s enthusiasm for FIRST knows no bounds, and she goes farther than mentoring her own team. She actively recruits teachers and uses her influence to create multiple new FRC teams and offers her experience and help. Mentors, she believes, should be there for advice and supervision. Her philosophy is that the team will be student run, with a student designed and built robot. She recruits other mentors that abide by this viewpoint, fostering strong bonds between mentors and students, because as an educator, she wants her students to learn as much as possible. By her hard work and persistence, Leland has finally gotten an engineering class added to its curriculum, Project Lead the Way. She took training over the summer to make this happen and is teaching the CAD class herself. Next year, a more advanced class will be added to Leland, and a class will be added at Valley Christian School due to her efforts.
Mrs. Arrington is also the team’s cheerleader. “Congratulations to all of you on one of the most successful weekends that I have seen in my 9 years of being involved with FIRST. You guys are awesome.” was emailed at the beginning of build season. She will tell you “I have over 300 children.” This compassionate mentor takes students in and treats them just as she would her own children. Every year she personally pays for plane/hotel costs for several low-income members to attend regional or championship competitions through her “Helen Arrington Scholarship.” Students work too long and too hard not to see their robot in action, and she believes absolutely nothing should hold them back. “Mrs. Arrington is like our team Mom. And all of us kids are her ‘dysfunctional family’ because we are all so different. But we’ve all become a big robotics family that will remain together long after high school robotics ends.”
The team has grown from 10 students in 2005 to 55 students in 2010, and Mrs. Arrington has adapted.
We now have a team structure with student leaders who mentor rookie members; project management; and technical project review meetings to help manage the larger team. She works alongside the students staffing the cafeteria. Last year, she distributed 10 used Lego Mindstorms kits to low-income schools and churches nation-wide and still keeps in touch with those teachers. She encourages her students to give back to the community. The students have mentored and coached 16 FLL teams in the last 3 years. Mrs. Arrington also volunteers at many community projects including The Giving Tree, collecting pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House Charity and hanging Suicide Prevention Hotline posters. She dressed up as “Santa” at BAE’s Toys4Tots event. She has helped us get involved in the community and strengthens our sense of civic duty; she is teaching us, by example, how to be better people. She is our role model, teacher and friend. The gratitude that we feel for her is enormous.