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An Arlington Tech robotics team has an unusual strategy for building camaraderie and raising money ahead of competition season: yard work.

Every fall, members of the Koibots weed, rake and landscape around 40 yards in Arlington. Money funds the cost to pay for robot parts and travel and lodging when competitions start in March.

“We’re kids, we all we have the ability to go out and break our backs for four hours on a weekend, shoveling, raking leaves and whatnot,” says rising senior Madeline Florio. “It is a service that people do need and we are able to provide it. Our customers are pretty loyal.”

The team’s coach, engineering teacher Steve Nystrom, says yard work hones their ability to communicate and work together, which comes in handy during the building phase.

“So when you start making the robot, you need to know, who can I depend on? Who can I count on? Who has the skill sets?” he said. “Ironically, you can build a lot of that and know a lot of those answers by going out on yard jobs.”

This kind of fundraising makes the Koibots an anomaly, says rising junior Anna Litwiller. Most teams get large sums of money from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and sometimes the Dept. of Defense.

The yard work might provide the team a competitive advantage, especially considering how well they’ve performed in their short existence.

Despite being in existence for just five years and having constructed only three robots, the team has twice made the cut-offs for districts — where the top 50% of teams in D.C., Virginia and Maryland compete in the spring.

This year, the Koibots came in 36th out 0f 60 and won an award for its design and branding, which leans heavily into its quirky culture influenced by marine life.

Nystrom said he chose the name “Koibots” because Arlington Tech’s Frisbee team is called “The Kois.” After naming their second robot “Sharkbait,” the aquatic theme stuck.

“We try to do as much as we can send her around the fish, and the IKEA shark, and all sorts of aquatic things,” says rising junior Shangwen Cheng. “We highly encourage our team members to get a shark because they’re wonderful but it really brings together our team in a way that you really can’t from the engineering alone.”

“Obviously, we’re here to encourage a love of STEM and building things and learning all things technical, but it’s also a lot of fun and you get to throw sharks around at people,” she continued.

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Daniel Meyer at the United States Geography Championships in April (courtesy of Brendan Meyer)

Arlington Forest teen Daniel Meyer is jetting off to Indonesia this weekend to represent the U.S. in an international geography tournament.

The rising senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is one of four students in Team USA competing in iGeo, or the International Geography Olympiad, next week.

Starting next Tuesday, the team will face off the best geography students from around the globe during this competition, which will be held in Bandung, Indonesia.

“It’s a very communal environment, because there’s teams from all over the world,” Meyer told ARLnow. “So it’s going to be nice to meet and talk about geography with people who have perspectives coming from all over the world.”

Meyer, who earned his spot after placing fourth at the U.S. Geography Championships in April, has a long history with geography.

As a fifth grader, he won the geography bee at Arlington Traditional School, and went on to qualify for the Virginia State Bee in eighth grade.

“I’ve been interested in geography pretty much my entire life. But even when I was three or four, I was using maps, making my own maps,” he said.

The three-day championship includes multimedia and written examinations, a fieldwork test and a poster presentation with questions ranging from climate change to economic systems to urban planning.

For their fieldwork test, students will be taken to a site and asked to apply their geographic knowledge in a less structured environment, according to iGeo’s website.

“One way I’ve been preparing is actually making my own tests,” Meyer said. “Just exploring all the different areas online, and putting them down, like in a physical format — it helps it get locked in my mind.”

Flying to Southeast Asia and exploring its geography will be a new experience for the geography buff.

“I’ve never really been outside of the country before, so to go to the other side of the world, it’s just a new, interesting thing,” Meyer said.

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Charlotte Walsh wins second place in Scripps National Spelling Bee
Charlotte Walsh wins second place in 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee (via Scripps National Spelling Bee/ Twitter)

When Charlotte Walsh qualified for the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee, she knew it was her last chance to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a finalist.

Little did she know she would come in second place, out of 231 competitors, and win a $25,000 cash prize. She finished behind¬†Florida student Dev Shah, who won with the word “psammophile” and took home $50,000.

“I’m very excited to start high school with this [spelling bee win] being one of the greatest things I’ve done so far in my life,” Walsh told ARLnow on Friday, amid interviews with several TV stations.

Walsh, an eighth-grader from Lyon Park, correctly spelled 13 words — including “akuammine,” “rescissible” and “sorge” — but was unable to capture first place when asked to spell the Scottish word “daviely” (pronounced “dave-yuh-lee“).

Her astonished facial expressions were splashed across newspapers nationally while her rapid-fire approach wowed some spectators.

The middle-schooler is no stranger to the Scripps Bee. In 2019, she finished in 51st place and in 2022, she climbed to 32nd place. This year’s contest was her final shot at a finalist title, as eighth-graders are the oldest eligible group.

The Fairfax County Council PTA in Merrifield sponsored her after she won the Fairfax County Bee and qualified for the national competition.

Now, spelling bees may be a thing of the past for Walsh, per her Scripps profile. The incoming high school freshman will continue homeschooling, but will be trading a list of 4,000 words to know for books on astrophysics and neuroscience — all while training for a black belt in tae kwon do.

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2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finalists, photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee Twitter
2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finalists (via Scripps National Spelling Bee/Twitter)

(Updated at 11:10 p.m.) Arlington eighth-grader Charlotte Walsh will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee final after taking the semis by storm yesterday afternoon.

Fifty-six spellers from across the country — ages 9 to 14 — fought for a spot in the final. Only 11 remain.

Walsh advanced after correctly spelling “anilox,” a noun Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “a system of printing that utilizes ceramic-coated metal cylinders to transfer consistent amounts of ink from a supply to the printing plates.”

Walsh, who is homeschooled and lives in Lyon Park, was one of the last students to spell in front of the judges. In a brief interview with ARLnow, she acknowledged how nerve-wracking this wait was, as well as the feelings of relief she experienced after getting the word right.

“Making it to the finals has been my goal since I was little — no matter what happens, I’m proud of myself,” Walsh said this morning, just hours before her last Scripps competition.

Walsh’s photo was splashed across newspapers nationally after being captured gasping during her time on stage.

Another Arlington eighth-grade semifinalist, Nathaniel Hersey, will not be moving forward to the finals. He was thrown for a loop when given the silent-P-word “psalterial.”

‚Äú[Going into the competition] I was familiar with the majority of the 4,000-word list for rounds one and two,” Hersey, who lives in Bluemont, told ARLnow. “I heard that the words in the final rounds would be more obscure and less often studied.‚ÄĚ

Judge Mary Brooks acknowledged his graceful efforts in the competition and wished him the best as he begins high school this fall. He currently takes classes through Virginia Virtual Academy.

A third Arlington participant, Kenmore Middle School student Ruby Kadera, was eliminated in the third round of the competition, their mother, Arlington School Board member Mary Kadera, confirmed to ARLnow. 

Walsh will represent Arlington County in the final competition tonight at 8 p.m. on the ION television network, available over the air and on several streaming platforms.

Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee/Twitter

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Innovation Elementary School student Sofia Kaarina Kurbat’s Doodle for Google submission (courtesy photo)

Sofia Kaarina Kurbat from Innovation Elementary is grateful for her teachers instilling in her the joy of learning.

So, it was fitting that she was in class on Tuesday when Google paid a surprise visit to the Courthouse-area school to say her submission to the 15th annual Doodle for Google competition was named the best in Virginia.

Young artists were asked to draw a picture of something they are grateful for and explain it in a statement. Kurbat was one of 55 state and territory winners and this is what she had to say about her drawing:

2023 is my first year of school and I love it — going to school, learning new things, enjoying the company of my classmates makes me happy every day because of the wonderful teachers, who work so hard to give us the joy of learning.

This is the year I learned to read and I’m thankful for my teachers being so encouraging. I am also thankful for my supportive community, where everyone is welcome and everyone’s special talents are recognized and celebrated. This [is] what I tried to express in my Doodle.

Other artists depicted their gratitude for spending time in nature, taking part in hobbies and spending time with their communities, Google said.

“We were amazed by the submissions we received. Across ages, students showcased what they appreciate most in thoughtful and intentional ways,” Google said in a statement. “Given the challenging nature of the past few years, we were really inspired to see the many ways students have been nurturing their spirits and facing the opportunities and challenges that every day brings.”

Kurbat and the 54 other children received Google hardware and swag and “held celebrations in their hometowns to showcase their artwork,” the tech company said.

Voting is expected to open today to choose which five of the 55 winning state Doodles will advance as national finalists and eventually, which student will be declared the big winner and have their design temporarily grace the top of Google.

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Miss Arlington Victoria Chuah winning Miss Virginia in June (photo courtesy of Kimberly Needles Photography)

A recent Miss Arlington is competing in the finals of the Miss America competition this week.

Last year’s Miss Arlington, Victoria Chuah, is looking to add another crown to her collection on Thursday. She is set to compete against 50 others, including Miss District of Columbia, for the title of Miss America.

In December 2021, Chuah won the title of Miss Arlington. Then, in June, she was crowned Miss Virginia.

Chuah, 22, says that one of the biggest reasons that she’s competing is to help pay off student loans.

“I definitely don’t think people realize it’s a scholarship organization. Miss America gets $50,000 and the runners-up also get tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money,” Chuah told ARLnow earlier this week while participating in the competition’s preliminary rounds. “So that’s a huge reason why so many, so many of the young women are competing.”

So far, she’s won more than $35,000 in scholarship money over the last year which helped her finish her master’s degree in computer science this past May.

Her career ambition is to become a chief technology officer for a Fortune 500 company.

Chuah is actually a Loudoun County resident but chose to compete in the Arlington competition due to the “great reputation for preparing candidates very well” as well as having one of the highest scholarship prizes available in the state.

To be eligible to compete in Miss Arlington, one only has to reside, work, or attend classes full-time in Virginia.

Chuah is not the first Miss Arlington to compete for Miss America. Caressa Cameron won the national crown in 2010.

The national competition is similar to the local competitions in terms of preparation and judging. Candidates submit a resume, a “social impact statement,” and go through a short interview leading up to the finals. In the finals, they are asked about a social cause that’s important to them and would be the focus of their year of service.

For Chuah, that’s advocating and creating awareness about adults with autism.

“My younger brother, Luke [has autism] and he actually just turned 20 a few weeks ago. As he’s become an adult, it’s so clear how few programs there are for adults with autism,” Chuah said. “There are so many adults with autism, and it’s normally seen as something [impacting] children, but all these children are growing up into adults and there’s no clear pathway for them as once they get older.”

During the finals, competitors showcase a talent, walk the red carpet in evening wear, and answer a question that’s not known in advance on stage.

Chuah’s talent is ballet, an art she’s been perfecting her “entire life.”

Over the last year, since being crowned both Miss Arlington and Miss Virginia, Chuah has been traveling around the state advocating for people like her brother Luke and encouraging young women to further their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Earlier this year, she was appointed to the Virginia STEM Education Advisory Board and sworn in by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Chuah is also the first Chinese-American woman to be named Miss Virginia.

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Armed Forces Cycling Classic in 2019 (courtesy photo)

The Armed Forces Cycling Classic, a series of races around Clarendon and Crystal City, is set to take place the first weekend of June.

The Cycling Classic will be held Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5. The in-person event resumed last year following the 2020 cancellation due to the pandemic. (The 2020 event featured virtual rides instead.)

“Cyclists with USA Cycling licenses are invited to race in Arlington on both days,” the event website says. “Racing will feature the Nation’s top Pro men and women. Amateurs of all abilities will also be able to participate on Saturday morning’s Armed Forces Cycling Classic Challenge Ride!”

The Challenge Ride, the area’s largest non-competitive ride, will kick off the weekend on Saturday at 7 a.m., with a closed course route set to take riders through Crystal City, the Pentagon, Rosslyn and back. All who finish the ride will a receive a medal, according to the event’s website.

“Gold, silver and bronze medals are earned for those who can complete 9, 6 or 3 laps within the 3 hour time limit,” the website says. The additional laps will be required compared to previous years to accommodate the current road construction.

The courses will prompt a mix of road closures and lane closures, with speed restrictions.

Slow speed zones are expected to be set up from 15th Street S. to Cheerios Park, as well as a section of Wilson Blvd, according to the Challenge Ride route map on the event’s website.

For the 2021 cycling series, several roads in Crystal City and Clarendon were closed for most of the race days, including parts of Crystal Drive, Wilson Blvd, and Route 110, as well as N. Highland, N. Garfield and N. Fillmore streets.

The 24th Clarendon Cup’s 5-turn course for professional and amateur cyclists is set to begin on Wilson Blvd then leads cyclists to Washington Blvd, N. Highland Street, to Clarendon Blvd and Fillmore, according to a route map.

“The famous 1km course will test the athletes skill and stamina, as it carries a reputation as one of the most difficult criterium races in the U.S. due to technical demands of the course and the quality of the participants,” the website says.

A map of the 2022 Clarendon Cup race (via Armed Forces Cycling Classic)

The day of the Clarendon Cup starts at 8 a.m. with various amateur races, followed by the women’s professional and amateurs race at 10 a.m., according to the website.

Beginning at approximately 11:30 a.m., free races for children 9 and under are held before the last race of the day — the Clarendon Cup Pro/1 Men’s Invitational, which is set to start just after noon.

Registration for amateur riders is open online, according to the event’s website. Interested participants can join individually or as a member of a team.

The 2022 schedule of events (via Armed Forces Cycling Classic)

The event — which is sponsored by brands like Boeing, Amazon and United Airlines — has partnered with the Clarendon-based Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting people who lost a loved one in the military. Participants in the challenges are encouraged to join as a fundraiser for the organization.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

(Updated 2:25 p.m.) This week, George Mason University’s¬†Virginia Square campus will hold Accelerate 2022, a new startup competition and investor conference.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday, the campus will host dozens of top tech companies and students who will showcase their ideas to venture capital investors and the D.C.-area tech community. They’ll be competing for cash prizes and potential investments as well as “fame, glory, and bragging rights,” the website said.

The competition targets companies from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. with $2 million in revenue or less, students with business concepts that could be viable in the long term, and entrepreneurs seeking seed funding.

“This will be pretty exciting,” said Paula Sorrell, GMU’s associate vice-president of innovation and economic development. “There’s a lot of interest. Knowing the early-stage tech economy is important to the region and expanding rapidly, we’re all running at a rapid pace and this is one example of that.”

Founders Hall and Hazel Hall at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus (via Alexis Glenn/Creative Services/George Mason University)

Taking into account some last-minute registrations, Sorrell says there will be “a couple hundred” participants this year, spread across four indoor-outdoor venues.

Accelerate 2022 is one of the early fruits of Mason’s planned expansion in Arlington and the Commonwealth’s Tech Talent Investment Program, which aims to graduate thousands of computer science students. Both were sparked by Amazon’s decision to establish its second headquarters in Arlington, construction of which is now well underway.

“The feedback we got pretty consistently indicated that there were a couple of gaps,” Sorrell said. “One was in seed capital and the other was in late-stage funds. In Mason’s role as educator and convener, the feedback was we can play a role in getting together ecosystem partners, curating partnerships between local investors and those not in the region to create more of a strong edge here.”

The associate vice-president said Accelerate will give smaller companies the opportunity to pitch in front of investors, allowing them to get feedback on their business models and pitches.

“This helps make better companies in the long run,” she said.

Students from the D.C. area will learn the process of entrepreneurship and funding, which are “critical experiences for those who want to run their own company or join a startup,” Sorrell said.

Accelerate 2022 draws on GMU’s experience hosting global investor conferences, she said. The new event has attracted more than 28 sponsors and a number of presenting companies, including Wednesday night’s keynote speaker Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global innovation policy and communications and an alumnus of GMU’s law school.

Sponsors include Arlington Economic Development and Accenture, which has a presence in Arlington. Sorrell said Mason already has attracted sponsors for next year’s conference, and the university aims to host Accelerate annually.

Meanwhile, work continues on the physical aspect of Mason’s expansion, built atop the now-demolished Kann’s Department Store on the west side of the Fairfax Drive campus. With state funding, GMU is building an Institute for Digital Innovation that will house a 5G testing area, an incubator space, and other tech-related education opportunities.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Has High Kid Vax Rate — “Virginia schools have about 420,000 children between the ages of 12 and 15, and about 63 percent of them have received at least one shot, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said during a news conference Monday. But vaccinations are not evenly spread: Alexandria has the highest vaccination rate for children in the state, at 98.5 percent, followed by 92 percent in Arlington.” [Washington Post]

Film Crew at DCA Today — “No parking except film crew” signs near Long Bridge Park are in place for some sort of a documentary that’s being filmed at National Airport, Arlington’s film office coordinator tells ARLnow. [Twitter]

Man Throws Drink at Honking Driver — “At approximately 8:41 p.m. on September 25, police were dispatched to the report of an assault just occurred. A lookout was broadcast and officers located the suspect in the 3500 block of Columbia Pike. The investigation determined that the victim was driving in the area when the male suspect, who was on foot, blocked his passage. The victim honked his horn to alert the suspect and as he was driving past, the suspect threw a beverage through the window, striking the victim in the head. The victim declined medical treatment and sustained minor injuries.” [ACPD]

County Reluctant to Loosen Lifeguard Rules — “It was a problem felt across Northern Virginia all summer – a lack of available lifeguards to keep watch over community pools. But should local governments provide exemptions for some pools to help alleviate a similar crisis next year? [Arlington] seems very hesitant.” [Sun Gazette]

Marymount Grad Wins Design Competition — “Tran Truong is a talent to be reckoned with in the design world. For the second consecutive year, the 26-year-old Marymount University student (now alumna) in May took top honors in a national competition hosted by the visual merchandising company WindowsWear. This year’s challenge: Design a store concept for the 40th anniversary of fashion label Michael Kors with an eye toward sustainability and social change.” [Arlington Magazine]

Photo courtesy Anthony Russo

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) In just seven weeks, engineering whizzes at Bishop O’Connell High School developed an app that NASA may draw from as it gears up to land the first American woman and next man on the Moon, in preparation for missions to Mars.

This week, NASA recognized them as one of top 10 teams in the 2020 NASA App Development Challenge, which occurred last fall. Students crunched lunar terrain data to create an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the Moon, and NASA will be using aspects of the 10 winning apps for its own program to help astronauts communicate on and navigate the Moon’s surface.

As members of a winning team, DJO students Alex Janninck ’22, Daniel Kippenhan ’22, Elaine Ly ’21 and Claire Toia ’23, as well as Sevginaz Gurleyici ’23, from the Madeira School in McLean will be able to participate in a NASA leadership event in February.

“It takes confidence, drive and a lot of perseverance,” Bishop O’Connell STEM teacher and team advisor Melissa Pore said. “This was incredible to see them achieve this.”

Students developed the app virtually, using “Code With Me” — the Google Docs of collaborative coding — and talked via Discord, a growing communications platform that is popular among gamers and teens. At the height of the challenge, Ly recalls taking notes in class with her right hand and coding with her left.

A NASA official said during a live-stream announcement that the students “displayed great team work by maximizing each team’s strengths in completing both the coding and non-coding aspects of the challenge.”

The odds were stacked against the students: The team barely met the minimum size to participate and the school went fully virtual (due to a COVID-19 outbreak) near the tail-end of the challenge. Team members also did not have app experience, and only Janninck and Ly could code proficiently — so they mentored other members in the coding language Python, Pore said.

“What adult groups would have persevered when they had to learn a new code and train others?” she said.

NASA wants to use this technology “right now,” said Pore, adding that the app can visualize any planet and is suitable for color-blind people.

“Good for NASA to use our smartest levels of students to figure out tricks they wouldn’t have thought of,” she said. “You taught the adults some lessons.”

Ly, who wrote about the news for the school, said she “wouldn’t be half as interested in engineering if it weren’t for [Pore].”

Always learning, Pore became a licensed amateur radio operator to build satellites with her students, and is working with the International Space Station so her students can learn about and access opportunities in aerospace engineering.

A senior headed to George Washington University, Ly nominated Janninck to take charge next year.

“He’s a really good leader and programmer,” she said.

As soon as Janninck finds another interesting challenge, he is willing to try it.

“We do need to get rest from coding and working really hard,” he said.

Especially since the next challenge could be a 24-hour competition to develop a floating settlement to flee to if a meteor strikes Earth.

“No sleep — it sounds wonderful,” Janninck said.

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(Updated at 8:10 p.m.) Wakefield High School senior Kidus Sebil’s photograph “Half a Man” has won the Congressional Art Competition in Virginia’s 8th District.

A panel from the National Art Education Association selected Sebil’s photograph out of dozens of other student works, according to the Office of Congressman Don Beyer. Sebil was notified of his victory in a congratulatory call from Beyer.

Sebil said that the photo was in black and white to highlight the details while also emphasizing the country’s current black and white division. The boy’s face was half-covered by the tree as further symbolism.

“Being an African American male in America can often feel like you’re only worth half that of a white man,” said Sebil.

Winning artwork will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year, according to the Congressional Art Competition website. However, the Congressional Institute and Architect of the Capitol are still evaluating the timeline and logistics around COVID-19 restrictions and procedures, Beyer’s office said.

The Congressional Art Competition is held each spring, accepting participants from high schools across the nation. Winners are recognized by their district and at an annual awards ceremony in D.C.

Beyer said that Sebil’s photography “speaks very powerfully to this moment,” and he believes people will be moved by this image once the Capitol building is open for visitors.

“At a time when so many are decrying the painfully slow pace of progress towards equality, justice, and the rejection of racism, this picture is powerful and moving,” said Beyer.

Photo by Kidus Sebil, courtesy of the Office of Congressman Don Beyer

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