Press Release: Oregon High School Robotics Documentary to Premiere on OPB

PORTLAND, OR, Dec. 17, 2020 - Big Dreams in Umatilla, a documentary created by video production company Blue Chalk Media, is set to premiere on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s (OPB) primary service on Monday, January 11, 2021.

Big Dreams in Umatilla tells the story of a high school robotics team that learns there are no limits when you have a superintendent who believes all students are capable of success when given the opportunity. 

Filmed in 2016, the documentary is set in Umatilla, Oregon, a town on the banks of the Columbia River surrounded by agricultural fields, processing plants, a prison, and a former chemical weapons depot. At the time of filming, students in the Umatilla School District were among the poorest student populations in the state with nearly 90% qualifying for reduced or free meals.

Although Umatilla has challenges, it has something other communities do not— Heidi Sipe, who became superintendent in 2007. Heidi knew that students just needed opportunities to grow, so she started a robotics team with the help of her husband, Kyle, a middle school math teacher. 

Though the robotics team was an important catalyst for change, this documentary is not about robots. It’s about inspiration and reality, a school superintendent who refuses to see limits, a community that invests in its schools, and kids who excel no matter the odds.

Speaking about the film, Director Rob Finch said, “Education has always been one of Blue Chalk’s core passions, and spotlighting the story of how a small, rural community was able to work together to foster an after-school robotic club was a natural fit for our company.” 

“Umatilla doesn’t have the advantages of many high school robotics teams — sponsorships by large tech companies or support from grants and parents who are computer scientists or engineers. But that did not deter them. We wanted to do justice to the story and let the participants tell it in an honest and authentic way.” 

Established in 2013, Blue Chalk Media is an award-winning production company based in Brooklyn, NY, and Portland, OR. Since its inception, it has produced almost 1,000 projects for clients such as The Food Network, Nike, The New Yorker, and TIME. Big Dreams in Umatilla is its first film to premiere on OPB. 

The first airing of the film will take place at 9 pm PST on Monday, January 11, 2021, with a repeat on Wednesday, January 13, at 8 pm on OPB Plus. The film will also be available to stream nationwide on the PBS App and More information about how the service can be viewed can be found here.

Download a packet of press material here


Ruth Aravena

Communications Manger