The packed Hofstra Arena fell silent as judges calculated the final scores for each team at the FIRST Robotics SBPLI Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University. When the judges announced the scores, Christine Schade’s eyes filled with tears.
Students from Southold/Greenport High School robotics team R.I.C.E. 870 exploded into cheers, joyously yelling about their second regional competition win in one season. Parents, teachers and school administrators cheered them on.
Earlier this year, Ms. Schade, who is both team adviser and a longtime math teacher at Southold High School, led the robotics team to victory in March at both the SBPLI Long Island Regional competition and the semifinals at the Finger Lakes Robotics competition at Rochester Institute of Technology.
As adviser, Ms. Schade has improved communication on the team, helped establish the program as a joint venture between the Southold and Greenport districts and allowed participating students to explore their individual interests.
For these reasons, Ms. Schade has been selected as our 2019 Suffolk Times Educator of the Year.
Team co-adviser Bob Gammon joined the team roughly five years ago alongside Ms. Schade, when roughly 23 students were enrolled. At that time, the club was active only three months of the year.
Since she took over, Ms. Schade has reorganized team R.I.C.E. 870 into separate departments —such as media, build and finance — which allows its nearly 50 student members to hone in on their personal interests, Mr. Gammon said.
“She’s incorporating more real-world skills into the club,” he said.
Some members came from Greenport schools, a concept presented by joint Superintendent David Gamberg, Mr. Gammon said. Ms. Schade was eager to welcome them.
“When [the idea] was brought to us, there was no apprehension,” Mr. Gammon said. “She was like, ‘Yes, let’s get more kids involved.’ ”
All the while, Ms. Schade has worked as a math teacher in Southold for over 25 years. This year, she’s juggling three sections of geometry and one section each of accounting and Introduction to Coding. Her passion for academics, school board member Judi Fouchet said, has not dwindled.
“Robotics can be very stressful, especially for her position,” she said. “To me, the crux of who she is, the minute a student approaches her, she smiles, her eyes light up and she’s like, ‘What’s up?’ A student never feels like they’re adding to her stress, or can even see it — because she’s so devoted to how she can help them.”
Ms. Fouchet, who has volunteered with the robotics team since 2005, said some nights the crew will work on robots until 10 p.m. — and both Ms. Schade and Mr. Gammon are always present, making sure that all students complete their homework and eat dinner.
“Her pride is always in the kids, no matter what they do and what they accomplish,” Ms. Fouchet said. “She’s tough, but they trust her and, more importantly, their families trust her.”
The club is now active nearly 11 months of the year and is most busy in January. That month is crunch time for R.I.C.E. 870 and robotics teams around the country, as that is when officials reveal what task a robot must complete during the year’s competition.
Shortly after that announcement, if the team makes the playoffs, Ms. Schade remains focused and invites sponsors and parents to the upcoming competitions. It’s stressful to nail down travel plans for those events, Mr. Gammon said, but she manages to keep it all running smoothly.
“Her organizational skills are second to none,” he said. “I got the team with the good robots, and she got the team with the incredible planning skills.”
Ms. Fouchet said Ms. Schade is devoted to her students — and to ensuring that they fit into the team.
“What sticks out to me is her never-ending smile and focus on students when they need her,” she said. “I’ve seen it a hundred times. That is something that has always amazed me.”
Photo caption: Christine Schade, a longtime Southold High School math teacher and adviser to the Southold/Greenport High School robotics team, at a recent team meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)
2018: Rosemary McGoey
2017: Sarah Benjamin
2016: Emily Gundersen
2015: John Roslak
2014: Phillip ‘Skip’ Munisteri
2013: Al Edwards
2012: Daniel Goldfarb
2011: Major William Grigonis
2010: Jean Dempsey
2009: Robert Feger
2008: Charles Kozora
2007: Kathy Williams
2006: Dr. Stuart Rachlin
2005: Mattituck Fund for Students
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2003: Chris Gallagher
2002: Brigitte Gibbons
2001: Barbara Ackerman
2000: Ruth Yoskovich
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1992: Patricia Wall
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1990: Dennis Claire
1989: Bruno Brauner
1988: Winifred Billard
1987: Jim Christy