Saturday, December 2, 2023

Peninsula STEM gym offers local robotics teams space to practice

The Peninsula STEM Gym opened last fall in Newport News (WYDaily/ Courtesy of the Intentional Innovation Foundation)
The Peninsula STEM Gym opened last fall in Newport News. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of the Intentional Innovation Foundation)

NEWPORT NEWS — During the school year, hundreds of students practice their passions in after-school clubs such as art, sports and STEM programs.

But where do some of these teams like robotics, meet to practice for the upcoming season?

The Peninsula STEM Gym, of course.

The 2,500-square-foot practice area is a warehouse behind Burl & Knotted, off Jefferson Avenue across from Deer Park.

Nate Laverdure, president of the Intentional Innovation Foundation and head coach of the Menchville High School’s robotics team, founded the gym last fall with a $4,000 grant from the Community Knights. 

“We had to step up and do it ourselves,” Laverdure said in regards to creating a year-round space for his team and other robotics teams to practice.

Thanks to a couple of sponsors, like NASA, the team has roughly $11,000 to run the facility per year.

“The reason we have the STEM Gym is to build the area the size of a basketball court,” he said.

Laverdure plans to add a scrimmage area, Lego robotics, underwater robotics and even drone racing.

Laverdure is an engineer at Jefferson Lab.

“We get to partner up students with professional –– real mentors,” he said. “I do this program because I get to replicate this experience with my students.”

“I get to do as much engineering problem solving as I do in my day jobs as a mechanical engineer,” he added.

So why not practice in the team’s respective schools?

Laverdure said generally the schools are not open during the summer months.

“Our school, for example, does some maintenance over the summer,” he said, adding there have been instances where if a team were to use the school to practice, it would cost money for janitorial staff and other expenses.

The school district said otherwise.

Tami Byron, STEM supervisor at NNPS, said she is not aware of the school charging any of the robotics teams to use the school facilities.

“These are our teams, because it is their home school, oh definitely, they would not be charged a fee,” she said.

Bryon added she is not sure if teams would have to pay a fee to use the school after-hours and is unaware of teams not having any space.

When asked why the school did not provide a STEM for the robotics team, she replied “quite frankly, we just don’t have the space,” adding most teams practice at their respective schools but other teams, like Triple Helix, “are different robotics teams and require more space.”

While the school does give the robotics team access to operate out of a workshop at Menchville, it is not really equipped for the large-scale robotics the team does.

“Before they even started –– we were trying to think of anything,” Bryon said. “We didn’t have a capacity at our current existing schools.”

Bryon noted the school district currently has 11 robotics teams now and is projected to have 15 teams this year.

“Our robotics team is growing ten-fold especially over the last year.”

The Peninsula STEM Gym, 11516 Jefferson Ave. Unit 2 is open to individuals and group teams by appointment only. For more information about the Peninsula STEM Gym or the Intentional Innovation Foundation, visit their website.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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