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Melania Trump honors Farmington robotics team at the White House

Team members pose with Rocco Zachow-Rodriguez. He will receive a modified version of the power ride-on car — the second one the team has created. Photo courtesy of Kynde Zachow-Archibald 1 / 3
Alex Treakle, 15, and Andrew Carland, 17, members of Farmington's Rogue Robotics team, adjust the wiring for a special motorized chair made for a Burnsville boy with dwarfism. They will present the wheelchair to the boy and his family at the White House in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (Deanna Weniger / St. Paul Pioneer Press)2 / 3
Bridget Orser, 15, of Farmington, works on a special motorized wheelchair for a Burnsville boy. She is part of the Farmington High School Rogue Robotics team. The team will present the chair to the boy and his family at the White House in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (Deanna Weniger / St. Paul Pioneer Press)3 / 3

FARMINGTON, Minn. — The Farmington High School robotics team was recognized Tuesday, May 7, by the first lady for building a customized wheelchair for a Burnsville boy.

The team and the boy’s family were invited to be part of the first anniversary of Melania Trump’s “Be Best” initiative, which supports programs that better the lives of children.

“This is truly what it means to be best,” she said. “Thank you for what you have done to change the little boy’s life.”

Starstruck and still reeling from the last-minute invite, the four students and their coach, Spencer Elvebak, wearing their red and black Rogue Robotics shirts and dark jeans, presented the modified chair to Rocco Zachow-Rodriguez, 5, on the White House lawn.

“The kids and I were sitting about eight seats away from the president,” Elvebak said. The wheelchair got a once-over by a bomb-sniffing dog and White House aides supplied a red marker to cover up scratches that happened en route.

The team shook hands with Vice President Mike Pence and had a photo op with Melania Trump.

“It was so cool, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Cami Schachtele, 17. “I actually got Mike Pence to sign my postcard. It says ‘Great job!’ I’m really excited to frame it.”

Rocco, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism, charmed the crowd of Washington notables and Wall Street execs by driving the car around and waving at the cameras. The First Lady leaned over, patted him on the shoulder and said, “Aren’t you just a handsome little boy!”

Due to the warm day, he began to deconstruct his perfectly planned outfit, said his mother Kynde Zachow-Archibald. By the time he met the First Lady, he’d taken off his purple tie, his shoes and suit jacket.

The team’s moment of fame, which has been gaining momentum since December, lasted about three minutes and was situated toward the end of the program.

“It was one of the most amazing experiences of my whole life,” said Nicole Cash, one of the students chosen out of the team of 26 to go to the White House. “It was super exciting. I’m so proud of our whole team.”

Elvebak got the invite last week after media buzz from their first Go Baby Go project made national news. The project, patterned after a Delaware University program, takes a power ride-on toy that can be purchased in most toy stores and adapts it for children with disabilities to give them off-road mobility.

Their first project was for Cillian Jackson, a Farmington boy with a genetic condition similar to cerebral palsy. The Jacksons were unable to attend the event, so Rocco’s family, who just met the robotics team a month ago, traveled in their place.

Rocco’s mother said her son’s biggest thrill of the trip was riding on the airplane, and of course, driving his new chair around.

“He wasn’t really happy when we had to take him out of it,” Zachow-Archibald said. “I can’t wait to get him home and let him drive it around. It fits him perfectly. They did a wonderful job.”

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