A.T.O.M STEM Academy Monthly News

January Edition

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Meet Mariarosa Marinelli or Ms. Mariarosa as the students refer to her!

Ms. Mariarosa is one of our STEMtastic instructors for First Chesapeake Robotics, which she is thrilled to serve!

Ms. Mariarosa, like our students, was raised in Richmond! She lived in Jackson Ward and Northside as a child and also attended college in Richmond. She received her Associate degree in Science from Reynolds Community College, and then earned her Bachelor’s degree in Physics and Mathematics from Virginia Commonwealth University. She’s spent the last few years working at the Science Museum of Virginia as an astronomer in the planetarium, so if you’re there, please stop by and say hello to Ms. Mariarosa! When it’s not too cold outside, Ms. Mariarosa enjoys biking and exploring the outdoors. She also loves reading, knitting, and listening to music.

Growing up, Ms. Mariarosa was very immersed in Humanities, so ending up in the STEM field was a bit of a surprise. Nevertheless, she is a lifelong learner…therefore, she is passionate about learning more about the world around her and how STEM helps to build a toolkit to better understand the complex and always-changing world.

Ms. Mariarosa absolutely loves getting to interact and grow with our MLK A.T.O.M. STEM students over the last few months. It’s undeniable that virtual learning has been difficult for everyone involved, but learning how to put robots together over Google Meets has been a real challenge! Despite it all, Ms. Mariarosa expressed that our scholars at MLK have risen to the challenge to better understand how to build and code Robots. She is truly appreciative of our students’ hard work and enthusiasm - two of the most important qualities one must possess to be successful in STEM.

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Meet Gray Boland, formerly known by our students as Mr. Boland!!

Mr. Gray Boland is our other STEMtastic instructor for First Chesapeake Robotics!! Like Ms. Mariarosa, Gray meets with our scholars every Monday as they push-in into Mr. Barnes's STEM elective class.

Mr. Boland is currently in his junior year at the University of Mary Washington where he is majoring in History and pursuing his Master's degree in Secondary Education. He discovered his love of teaching at 15 when he became a camp counselor. Since then, he has had extensive experience working with elementary and middle school students, both in and outside of the classroom, in Hanover and Spotsylvania counties. He is also a Big Brother in Fredericksburg, where he mentors local students.

As a child, Gray was interested in LEGOs and he still loves the challenge of building from scratch. His love for building has manifested and prove to be very helpful when assisting MLK students with constructing their Robots. One can even say that Gray is a natural when it comes to building!

Having been diagnosed with Dyslexia in 3rd grade, Gray appreciates that not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace, and is always looking for ways to make learning fun. Also, because reading can be difficult, he found that being able to excel in Math and Science helped make him feel a part of the class when he was younger. Gray can empathize with our scholars to help them reach their goals!

Gray has enjoyed getting to know the students in MLK's A.T.O.M STEM Academy and working with them on their robots. He has been so impressed by the drive and determination of some of the students, especially when he can tell that they are frustrated. “I can tell that it’s hard sometimes, but they never give up," Gray stated.

Other than attending college in Fredericksburg, Gray has lived his entire life in Richmond. He likes to read books, hang out with his friends (remotely), indulge in history, and cook. He has one older and one younger brother, 3 cats, and 2 dogs. He also had a pet rat, named Sebastian, for many years.

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What does First Chesapeake Robotics do?

FIRST Chesapeake is an independent non-profit that brings STEM-based leadership programs to middle and high school students in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Robotics is the means to teach technical concepts and practical know-how, as well as to build leadership skills and develop teamwork.

Community and industry professionals work side by side with students to develop a competition robot in answer to a complex engineering challenge that looks and plays like a sporting event. FIRST programs reach more students in our area of service than any other STEM-based organization. Supporting the vision and mission of FIRST Chesapeake is providing the platform to build the next generation of technology leaders for tomorrow’s global workforce.

First Robotics at MLK meets weekly on Mondays from 2:20 to 3:25. First Robotics instructors Gray and Mariarosa engage our students by teaching them how to build and program (CODE) their robots. It has been exciting seeing students interact with their instructors while making their Robots come alive. We appreciate your partnership First Chesapeak Robotics!!!!

Below are some pictures from a previous session:

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January STEMtastic News

Hope all had a Festive December! December was a short month for us due to Winter Break! Nevertheless, students experienced a full schedule as they finished up testing in preparation for the second 9 weeks. Although we always want students to start strong, this year was unprecedented and we understand that it took some "getting used to" before total assimilation for students and parents. Therefore, we are hopeful that this 9 weeks will be better for everyone involved (students, parents, and school staff alike). WE ARE GETTING BETTER!!! As my high school football coach always stated, "It is not how you start, it is how you finish that counts!"

Moving forward, I need your help STEM parents and guardians...please continue to encourage and support your scholar to finish the school year strong. Some may be thinking, "How exactly can help my son or daughter finish this school year strong?" Please see the below bullets for some helpful advice:

  1. First and foremost, your scholar(s) must show up every day and on time! Attendance is an essential contributor to student success, especially for middle school-aged students. (See the below flyer with more information on attendance)
  2. Secondly, while showing up is a major part of students' success...when scholars show up, they must be present and an active participant in their education. By actively participating (asking questions, responding to the teacher's directives, etc.), students show that they care and want to be apart of the learning. If at all possible, please encourage your scholar to participate with their camera on (especially during class discussions).
  3. Lastly, we need you (the parent/guardian) to work with us to ensure that your scholar is receiving what they need. Due to this virtual setting, parent responsibility in education has increased tenfold. For this virtual experience to be effective, we need your assistance in monitoring and ensuring that our scholars are doing what they need to do to be successful. By doing so, we will form wrap-around support for our scholars to help them be successful!

We appreciate your partnership STEM families and as previously stated, "It takes a village to raise a child." I want you to know that we are in this together and we want to support you and your scholar in any way possible.

Information about the NextUP Program:

NextUp — a free program for Richmond Public Schools middle school students — provides safe, high-quality opportunities for students to explore interests, express themselves, make friends, and have fun! NextUp isn’t one single program or in one specific building. Rather, it’s a coordinated network of providers that have a common commitment to ensuring middle school students have access to quality afterschool activities. Programs are only offered online due to Covid-19.

For more information on NextUp, please use the below website link:


RPS STEM Academy students can still sign up for the following classes:

  • TechConnect (Mondays AND Wednesdays)
  • Tecnologia Para Los Ninos (Tuesdays)
  • Strategy Board Games (Wednesdays)
  • Edible Schoolyard (Tuesdays AND Thursdays)
  • Math Detectives (Mondays OR Wednesdays)
  • Money Matters (Wednesdays)
  • Making Money in the Stock Market (Thursdays)

To register for NextUp, you will need to have an email address available. Please use the below website link to register your scholar:


Also, below are several pictures of MLK's State of the Art, SmartLab, which was finalized in December.

Important updates for December:

  • January 18th: No school due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • January 25th: No school due to a Teacher Work Day
  • Please know that our Wednesday 4th period class meetings may run over ten minutes for the remainder of the 9 weeks due to MLK having to move Code Beats from Thursday to Wednesday. We apologies for any issues this may cause.

Lastly for any questions and/or concerns relative to the A.T.O.M STEM Academy, please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Smith directly. You can reach my work cell phone at 804-835-4505 or email me at dsmith23@rvaschools.net

Below is the flyer on school attendance and participation:

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Below are pictures of our new State of the Art, SMART Lab!!!!

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Wednesday is MLK's Dedicated Swap Out and Pick-up Day

Attention parents, if you have a scholar(s) who has been patiently waiting to exchange their tablet for a Chromebook or they need to receive their new ELA or math materials, the wait is over. Every Wednesday for the near future, MLK will offer a "Swap Out" session from 10 am to 3 pm.

Due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, we are doing everything in our power to remain safe.


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In celebration of MLK DAY, please check out the below pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

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What is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Our STEM Academy fosters a love of these four disciplines by integrating them into our content areas. STEM focuses on hands-on and relevant learning experiences for our students. It engages students and helps establish connections between the school, workplace, community, and the global economy. Each lesson ties directly into the curriculum and focuses on the 5C’s of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate: Collaboration, Creativity, Critical thinking, Citizenship, and Communication. Students model the Engineering Design Process by Asking themselves what is the problem, Imagining possible solutions, Planning materials, Creating a prototype, and thinking of ways to Improve through redesigning.

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Below is a list of our STEM Partners (click below to access our partner's calendar):

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Please remember No Cell Phone, Hangout chats, or ZOOM Chats during class

We need all students to follow MLK's cell phone policy. Students should not be using their cell phones or any other communicative app/device during instructional time unless it is a part of the teacher's lesson. At MLK, we aim to provide every student with a world-class education and we cannot achieve this if students are occupied texting or chatting during class. Thanks for your assistance with this.

Stay connected with us

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For any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We are here for our students, families, and community! We want to continue to strengthen our family and community partnerships for the well being of our scholars.