New robotics academy to host preview


A local teacher is starting the Pine Belt Robotics Academy, a new program designed to promote STEM skills, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, even outside of school.

Nadine Amaya, the 2018 Mississippi VEX IQ Elementary Teacher of the Year and the 2017 VEX IQ World STEM Hall of Fame Teacher of the Year, is opening the academy for students in grades 2-5 from all area schools, including homeschoolers.

“For several years now, I’ve been asked by students throughout the community – and parents – about how they can become involved in robotics,” Amaya said. “A lot of our schools are not offering a robotics program at the elementary level, so since I had so many people approach me and have an interest in that, I felt like it was a need in our community.

“Robotics can open up many doors for students in the future – some that may have never really thought about liking science and math, or looking at a career that would involve the STEM skills, might find out that they are actually really good at those things. I felt it would be a positive thing for the students in our area.”

A preview weekend will be held from 3-4 p.m. Sept. 21 and from 2-3 p.m. Sept. 22 at 5268 Old Highway 11 in Hattiesburg, Suite 9, in the same shopping center as Compadres Mexican Grill.

“People can come and see how it’s all set up, ask questions, and if they’re interested, that would be a good time to sign up for the program,” Amaya said.

After the preview weekend, weekly sessions will be held for the rest of the school year from 4-4:15 p.m. on Mondays (second and third grade); 5:15-6:30 p.m. on Mondays (fourth and fifth grade); 4-5:15 p.m. on Tuesdays (second and third grade); 5:15-6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays (fourth and fifth grade); 4-5:15 p.m. on Thursdays (fourth and fifth grade); and 5:15-6:30 p.m. on Thursdays (second and third grade). The fee for the program is $100 per month, along with a $50 one-time registration fee.

“I’ll have very small groups, so I’m thinking that hopefully the slots are going to fill pretty quickly, because I’m going to keep it at four to six students in each of those time slots that I’m offering,” Amaya said. “They don’t have to participate every month, but I’m assuming that they would just because it’s so engaging and the students usually are hooked on it once they get there.

“But just like if they do art lessons or karate, they wouldn’t have to be held to a long-term commitment, if their parents just wanted to do it for three months or six months.”

Rather than focus on the competition aspect of robotics, as would be pursued in most of the school programs, the Pine Belt Robotics Academy will lean more toward STEM skills and exploring robotics via building and testing of robots. Amaya also will use some of the gaming challenges from past years, giving children many different opportunities to use science, engineering and math in an after-school setting.

“It’s only going to be one hour and 15 minutes per week, so it’s not enough time to actually take them to the tournaments and things like that, like I do with the school program right now,” Amaya said. “But it’s going to be something that would benefit them to learn a lot of life skills and STEM skills at the same time, in a fun and engaging environment.”

Amaya has created a website for the program,, which contains more information on the progam. Individuals also can get more info by calling (601) 310-9842 or emailing

“So far, everyone’s been positive, and I’m expecting a pretty good turnout on the preview weekend,” Amaya said. “I’m excited about seeing how it goes.”