St. Thomas More Students' Patent-Pending Invention Wins First Place

St. Thomas More Academy sent two teams, the Lego Roosters and Lego Capuchins, to compete in the 2017 First Lego League Qualifier. The theme of the 2016/2017 FIRST® Lego® League was "Animal Allies" and consisted of three parts.  Students had to design and build a robot using the Lego Mindstorms kit that autonomously navigates an obstacle course, complete a project to invent something that could help animals, and demonstrate teamwork while completing timed "minute-to-win-it" challenges known as Core Values challenges.  The student range from third grade through eighth grade.

The Lego Capuchins scored well in the robot game and Core Values, got an exemplary rating in programming, and were qualified to be considered for states. The Capuchins won first place in the Project Category and have filed a patent application for their "Primate Enrichment Device", which is a kind of feeder that provides a puzzle that monkeys need to complete to release food.

"The Lego Roosters had an excellent project presentation and great costumes, and were one of a few teams that actually created and tested their invention, which was a device to reduce dog loneliness", said team coach and STMA teacher Verona Leahy.  "This is really impressive, especially when you consider that this is their first year the Roosters have ever competed" she said.

Both teams partnered with the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and worked with its Director of Institutional Advancement, Chuck Eicholz, for several months to understand the needs of the animals and what materials would be safe to use to construct their inventions.  "I really enjoyed working with the kids," said Eicholz.  "It was wonderful to see them go from an idea to actually using the device in the zoo in such a short amount of time."

Patent attorney Tom Bassolino from Leveque Intellectual Property Law came to the school early in the FLL season to explain the basics of intellectual property law.  "Mr. Bassolino is a truly gifted presenter," said coach Tom Neumark, "and had all the kids engaged and all of the adults in stitches."  Said Bassolino, "I have given similar talks to adults (non-patent practicing lawyers) and I have never had them ask such great questions.  These kids are amazing!"

Team coach, Elizabeth Renninger, noted that the St. Thomas More teams have had a three year track record of being recognized at the competitions.  "From the Dress-For-Success award to the Core Values award to the Project Award this year, we've been truly blessed that our students continue to be recognized for their efforts," she said.   "What made a big difference this year was the level of high level support from our sponsors who invested time and energy to help our students achieve something truly outstanding."

The teams were coached by Elizabeth Renninger, Tom Neumark, Verona Leahy, Amanda Bitler, and Karen Leahy.  The team sponsors include the Butz Family Foundation, The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, Leveque Intellectual Property Law, and ProSearch LLC.

A video of monkeys using the school's patent-pending invention at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is posted at