Having a Ball: King Middle School & Wesley International Academy Students Learn to Program Sphero Robots


Students prepare a sphero robot to knock down bowling ball pins. 

By: Alicia Sands Lurry

Imagine being able to program an object the size of a golf ball to roll forward, move backward, and to hit the center of a bullseye.

That’s exactly what students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Wesley International Academy did after learning to program sphero balls – small, app-enabled droid robots – at the first-ever Maynard H. Jackson High School Sphero-Versity event on Friday, Jan. 13.

Designed to boost enrollment in Jackson’s robotics program and encourage underrepresented students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, the event was led by 10 robotics students from Jackson who taught the middle schoolers the basics of computer programming.

Eventually, middle school students learned to program the robots to knock down bowling pins, hit the center of a bullseye, and roll the sphero ball through a maze.


By the end of the day, the students – many of whom represented their respective schools’ robotics teams – competed to see who could successfully master all three programming skills.


“I loved learning something new,” King Middle School student Caesar Rosser said, as he worked to program the sphero ball to make it go forward and then right again. “It would be cool to add a camera to the balls.”

Shevan Howard, IB coordinator at King Middle School, said he hoped the event would help further his students’ interest in STEM education.

“Hopefully, this will provide them with the connection between middle school and high school and build their love for STEM,” Howard said.


According to Shelley Carter, an engineering teacher and robotics coach at Jackson, students also gained leadership experience, as well as presentation and interview skills, from working with middle schoolers.

Jackson High students Kol Greenbaum and Ethan Heyns taught middle schoolers the basics of programming a sphero robot.


Tenth grader Ihsan Muhammad agreed.

“It makes you feel older, like being a mentor,” he said. “The younger kids helped me learn more because of the questions they asked.”


Kameron Clark, an eighth grader at King Middle School, said he may now consider studying computer science.

“This is like learning more than you can at school,” he said. “You don’t have to be a scientist or a genius. You just have to be willing to learn.”

Tracy Joyner, gifted endorsement internship facilitator with the Office of Gifted and Talented Education, said the event was a win-win for all students.

“I love to see high-achieving and talented students work together,” she said. “It’s like magic.”


Sphero-Versity winners show off their first-place prizes. 





Grady’s Caylin Newton Wins Weekly Atlanta Touchdown Club Award

Caylin Newton was selected as the Back of the Week by the Atlanta Touchdown Club for his performance against Lithia Springs last week, in which he led Grady to a 74-14 win. He will lead the Gray Knights against Decatur on Friday night.

Grady senior quarterback Caylin Newton was selected as the Atlanta Touchdown Club’s Back of the Week for his performance against Lithia Springs last Friday.

Caylin led the Gray Knights to a 74-14 victory by tossing five touchdown passes and running for another score. His brother, Cam, the reigning National Football League MVP, won the award as well during his senior season in high school in 2006. Caylin and Cam are only the fifth set of brothers to win the prestigious award.

Caylin will lead Grady (3-1), ranked No. 10 in Class AAAAA in the Atlanta Journal Constitution/Georgia High School Football Daily Top 10 poll, against Decatur (1-3), Friday, 7:30 p.m., at Lakewood Stadium.

In a rare Thursday night varsity game at Lakewood Stadium, Douglass evened its record at 2-2 with a 52-7 victory over Osborne (Cobb County). The Cardinals fell to 0-6.

Here is the rest of this weekend’s slate of games (all on Friday, unless otherwise noted):

Washington (1-3) at B.E.S.T. Academy (1-3), 8 p.m., Lakewood Stadium

South Atlanta (2-3) at Hapeville Charter (Fulton County) (1-3), 7:30 p.m., Hapeville Recreation Complex, Hapeville

Carver (3-1) at North Springs (Fulton County) (2-1), 7:30 p.m., Thermopylae Stadium in Atlanta

KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (3-1) at Therrell (2-2), 5:30 p.m., Lakewood Stadium

North Atlanta (1-3) at Pope (Cobb County) (0-4), 7:30 p.m., Pope Stadium in Marietta

Maynard Jackson (1-3) at Banneker (Fulton County) (2-2), 7:30 p.m., Banneker Stadium in College Park


New Playground at FATE Allows All Kids to Play Together

Fred A. Toomer Elementary School now has a new playground with features that make it more accessible for students with special needs and mobility issues. Teacher Emily Max won a $100,000 grant from Farmers Insurance to fund the project.

Now ALL the students at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School can play together, thanks to the vision of a teacher and a gift from Farmers Insurance®.

Monday morning, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to officially open a new, inclusive playground behind the east Atlanta school. The area has a soft rubber floor and is constructed to make it easily accessible for students with special needs or mobility issues.

The project is the brainchild of Toomer kindergarten teacher Emily Max, who was one of six nationwide winners of the Farmers Insurance® Dream Big Teacher Challenge in 2015. Max began thinking of the idea when she noticed that the school’s large playground was not completely accessible to all of the students at Toomer. For example, the area’s floor of soft wood chips made it extremely difficult for students with wheelchairs or other mobility issues to move around freely.

“This is what I dreamed about,” said Max. “I especially like that all the equipment is designed for the students to make eye contact with each other.”

Max said that subtle aspect of interaction can be difficult, especially in the classroom, for some students who do not want to appear as if they are staring at one of their peers who is different from them.

“That can be a struggle sometimes,” Max said. “But out here everything is designed in such a way that that eye contact will come naturally. To see all of our kids be able to play together independently, that was my true vision.”

Toomer Principal Ashley Adamo agreed.

“I think this playground will help all of our kids see more of how they are alike, instead of seeing their differences,” she said. “I think it is going to foster more and greater interaction between all of our students, and allow them to play independently, together.”

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It): Grady, Mays, South Atlanta Blow Out Opponents on the Gridiron

Mays senior linebacker Magnus Lyons (No. 53) helped lead a dominating Raider defense to a 51-0 shutout of New Manchester. (Photo courtesy of Derrick Mahone, Douglasville Sentinel)

Grady, Mays and South Atlanta destroyed their opponents Friday night, defeating them by a combined score of 161-14.

Grady (3-1), ranked No. 10 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution/Georgia High School Football Daily Class AAAAA Top 10, pummeled Lithia Springs (0-4) of Douglas County, 74-14. Several Grey Knights had big games. Leading the way was senior quarterback Caylin Newton, who threw five touchdown passes – two each to Kemari Averett and Aaron Hudson Jr., one to Christian Jones – and ran for another score. Christian also had a punt return for a touchdown and Jeffery Black ran for two touchdowns. Grady led 41-0 after the first quarter and 68-0 at halftime. Still, the 74 points was not a school record. Grady beat North Springs 76-6 in 2010.

Mays (3-1) pounded another team from Douglas County, New Manchester (0-4), 51-0. It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The Raider defense, which had yielded at least 28 points in every game so far this year, earned its first shutout of the season.

South Atlanta (2-3) posted its second consecutive shutout with a 36-0 win over Forest Park (0-5) of Clayton County. Last week, the Hornets shutout Clarkston (0-5), 57-0.

Here’s how the other APS teams faired over the weekend:

Carver 43, Maynard Jackson 7
Carver (3-1) came out on top in the first ever meeting between the two schools. Maynard Jackson is now 1-3 on the season.

Newnan 48, Washington 14
The Bulldogs (1-3) fell behind 14-0 just 30 seconds into the game, and could never catch up.

Chattahoochee (Fulton County) 21, North Atlanta 17
The Warriors (1-3) lost another close one, this time on the road in Alpharetta. Last week, North Atlanta was defeated 14-10, by Dunwoody.

Westside-Macon 42, B.E.S.T. Academy 6
The Eagles (1-4) trailed 35-6 in the first half and failed to mount a comeback.




Maynard Jackson and Carver to Meet on the Gridiron for the First Time

Maynard Jackson (left) and Carver will face off in football for the first time on Saturday, 4 p.m., at Lakewood Stadium, in the Class AAAAA-Region 6 opener for both teams. 

Maynard Jackson (1-2) and Carver (2-1) face each other for the first time when the Jaguars and Panthers meet Saturday, 4 p.m., at Lakewood Stadium.

The teams compete in Class AAAAA-Region 6 this season, along with Banneker (Fulton County), Decatur, Grady, Lithia Springs (Douglas County), North Springs (Fulton County) and Riverwood (Fulton County). Region competition is important because the top four teams in each region at the end of the regular season will advance to the state playoffs in November. Mays, North Atlanta and Grady face region foes this weekend as well.

Here is the rest of this weekend’s slate of games (all on Friday, unless otherwise noted):

B.E.S.T. Academy (1-3) at Westside-Macon (1-2), Saturday, 2 p.m., Bibb County Sports Complex in Macon

(Class AAAAA-Region 6) Grady (2-1) at Lithia Springs (0-3), 7:30 p.m., Lions Stadium in Lithia Springs

(Class AAAAAA-Region 5) Mays (2-1) at New Manchester (Douglas County) (0-3), 7:30 p.m., New Manchester Stadium in Douglasville

(Class AAAAAA-Region 7) North Atlanta (1-2) at Chattahoochee (Fulton County) (1-2), 7:30, The Arena in Alpharetta

South Atlanta (1-3) vs. Forest Park (Clayton County) (0-4), 7:30 p.m., Lakewood Stadium

Washington (1-3) at Newnan (Coweta County) (1-2), 7:30, Drake Stadium in Newnan

APS to Host First-Ever High School All-Star Baseball Classic at Turner Field, Presented by L.E.A.D.

APS All-Star Baseball infographic
Negro League baseball legend Othello “Chico” Renfro (second from left) played baseball as a student-athlete at Atlanta Public Schools Washington High School. As a member of the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, Renfro was a teammate of Jackie Robinson (far left), who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

Atlanta Public Schools has a long and storied athletic history, and that includes baseball. Now APS will honor its baseball tradition by hosting the first high school all-star baseball game in the district’s history.

The Atlanta Public Schools All-Star Baseball Classic, presented by L.E.A.D., will showcase nearly 50 of the top baseball student athletes in metro Atlanta from 10 APS high schools:  B.E.S.T. Academy, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Henry W. Grady, Maynard H. Jackson, Benjamin E. Mays, North Atlanta, South Atlanta, D.M. Therrell and Booker T. Washington.

Adding to the significance of the event, the game – scheduled for Tuesday, May 17, 11 a.m. – will be held at Turner Field. The APS All-Stars practiced together from 10 a.m. to noon, on Saturday, May 7 at Jackson High School. APS All-Star Baseball logo

Along with permitting the APS All-Star Baseball Classic to be played at Turner Field, the Atlanta Braves will present the All-Stars and their coaches to Braves Country on May 12th during an on-field presentation before the Braves face off against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The inaugural game represents the vision of C.J. Stewart, who grew up in one of Atlanta’s most dangerous housing projects, Hollywood Court, dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player. After starring at DeKalb College (now Georgia Perimeter College), he was signed by the Chicago Cubs organization. After his playing days ended, Stewart became a baseball instructor and started L.E.A.D., which stands for “Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct.” The mission of the non-profit organization is to create positive outcomes for at-risk, minority, inner-city youth by leveraging the relationship between education, athletics and service.

Through year-round programming, Stewart is providing deserving inner-city youth with a pathway to high school graduation, college access and career opportunities. L.E.A.D. is developing a fraternity of youth called Ambassadors: college bound, civically engaged student-athletes who are prepared to be positive change agents in their communities and world.

“This inaugural All-Star Game will serve as an inspirational catalyst to first, unite student-athletes from different schools and position them to use the game they love to lead Atlanta and to lead the world,” said Stewart, who attended elementary school in APS. “Atlanta needs young men who will grow up to lead this city and baseball helps develop those leaders. We are excited about providing this platform for leadership through the All-Star game via our partnership with APS.”

Stewart noted that several notable Atlanta leaders played baseball while in high school in APS. The list includes:

  • Courtney D. English – Atlanta Board of Education Chair
  • Andre Dickens – Atlanta City Councilman
  • Kwanzaa Hall – Atlanta City Councilman
  • Johnny Isakson – United States Senator
  • Ceasar Mitchell – Atlanta City Council President
  • Othello “Chico” Renfroe – Negro League Legend
  • Donn Clendenon – Major League Baseball World Series

“Baseball changed my life,” English said. “Teamwork, discipline, work ethic, sportsmanship are all skills I use every day as chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education, and I learned them all on the baseball field. The chance to play in a citywide all-star game creates a level of camaraderie and pride between students that is simply invaluable. L.E.A.D. is a part of APS’ solution to create choice-filled lived for our students.”

Senator Isakson said, “I was a catcher on my high school baseball team, and it helped prepare me for public service in the Georgia state legislature and the U.S. Congress by teaching me to build trust with members of my team. Teamwork and building personal relationships are important factors for success in life, whatever your path. I would have been honored to participate in an All-Star game. It’s great to get to compete together with great athletes from other teams and other schools.”


Spring Sports Teams Making a Run at State Championships

Grady boys tennis 2016
The Henry W. Grady boys tennis team has advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Georgia High School Association state playoffs. This year’s seniors (pictured left to right) are Skyler Diacou, Matthew Wood, Alex Lepik and Chase Masri. Senior Kyle Mulholland is not pictured.

By Seth Coleman

The school year is winding down, but spring sports competition in Atlanta Public Schools is red hot as several teams are making a run at a state championship.

The Henry W. Grady boys team has advanced to the third round of the state playoffs.

Last week the Knights, the No. 3 seed from Region 6, Class AAAA, travelled north to Elijay and defeated Gilmer County, the No. 2 seed from Region 7, by a score of 3-1. (Tennis competitions feature five matches. The top three singles players from each team play each other, as well as the top two doubles duos.) The match against Gilmer County was called early.  Then Grady travelled south to Jesup Monday and shut out Wayne County, the Region 3 champions, 5-0.

The Knights will face either North Oconee, the Region 8 champions, or Spauding, the No. 2 seed from Region 4, later this week. Grady has been led all season by singles players Josh Wolfe, Alex Lepik and Matthew Wood, and the doubles teams of Chase Masri and Kyle Mulholland, and Robert Mobley and Randall Schwartz.

After clinching the Region 6, Class AAAAA title last week, Benjamin E. Mays will host Kell from Marietta, beginning Friday at 5 p.m., in the first round of the Georgia High School Association state playoffs. (Baseball playoffs are a best-of-three series, with a double-header played usually on the first day of the series.) The Raiders finished the regular season with a record of 19-2, the best in school history, and enter the state Class AAAAA playoffs as a No. 1 seed from Region 6. Kell (18-8) is the No. 4 seed from Region 7.
Grady, Maynard H. Jackson and North Atlanta have both their boys and girls teams in the state playoffs.

The North Atlanta girls (15-3-1) are the Region 7, Class AAAAA champions and have won their last four consecutive games by a combined score of 18-1. They will host Southwest Dekalb (5-5), the No. 4 seed from Region 6, Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Warriors’ boys team (9-4-1), the No. 4 seed from Region 7, Class AAAAA, took on Region 6 champion Dunwoody (11-6-1) on Tuesday, at Dunwoody.

The Grady boys (12-3-1) are the No. 2 seed from Region 6, Class AAAA and hosted Cartersville (13-4-1), Tuesday. The Grady girls (10-5-2) are the No. 3 seed from Region 6, Class AAAA and travelled to Cartersville (10-7) on Tuesday to take on the Purple Hurricanes.

The Jackson girls (10-4), the No. 4 seed from Region 4, Class AAA, travelled south Tuesday to take on Savannah Arts Academy (13-1-1), the Region 1, Class AAA champions. The Jaguar boys (6-5), also the No. 4 seed from Region 4, faced Savannah Arts Academy (15-3), following the girls game. The SAA boys are the Region 1, Class AAA champs.
All APS track teams will be competing in sectional meets on Saturday, with the top 8 finishers in each event advancing to the state meets. The girls’ state meet will be May 5-7 in Albany, the boys’ will be May 12-14 in Jefferson. Here is the lineup for Saturday’s sectional meets (girls and boys run at the same sites):

  • BEST Academy at Greater Atlanta Christian (Norcross), 9 a.m.
  • Carver at Heritage (Conyers), 9 a.m.
  • Grady at Eagle’s Landing (McDonough), 9 a.m.
  • Mays at Heritage (Conyers), 9 a.m.
  • Coretta Scott King, Douglass, Jackson, South Atlanta, Therrell and Washington all at Gordon Central (Calhoun), 9 a.m