Connect with us


New program pairs high school students with graduate researchers at VCU

“It’s an opportunity for the high school students to collaborate with master’s and doctoral students and it gives them an idea of what higher education is all about.”



By James Irwin

Kaya Smith wants to attend medical school, so when an opportunity arose for the Henrico High School student to spend two weeks this summer working in a laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University, she did not hesitate to take it.

“My counselor told me about it and I thought it would be a nice opportunity,” said Smith, a rising senior and aspiring surgeon. “My school focuses a lot on research, especially with the [International Baccalaureate] program. In my high school biology class, we worked with lipids and bacteria growth. I felt this research opportunity would be nice for me to get a broader experience working in a lab.”

Smith is conducting research related to heart disease alongside Anna Kovilakath, a third-year Ph.D. student in the VCU School of Medicine. They were paired through a new program called RAM Opportunity that matches high school students in Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico public schools with graduate researchers at VCU. The program, piloted last year through the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, is run by VCU’s Graduate School, and provides research and mentoring opportunities for participants, said Melissa Tyler, assistant dean of the Graduate School.

“It’s an opportunity for the high school students to collaborate with master’s and doctoral students and it gives them an idea of what higher education is all about,” Tyler said. “And it’s an opportunity — if they have a special interest — to work hands on and get experience that can help them learn more about where they want to take their academic careers.”

Smith and Kovilakath are two of four participants this summer. Portia Newman, a doctoral student in the School of Education, is the RAM Opportunity program coordinator. Newman said the length of the program — 40 hours over two weeks from July 15-26 — provides a way for high school students to experience a research project already underway.

“It feels like a test run, to help them explore what they can do with their interests,” Newman said. “And this is work the graduate students are already doing. It’s a way for the students to see what’s happening in real time.”

Kaya Smith and Anna Kovilakath standing in the student lounge on the MCV Campus.

Kovilakath and Smith are working with sphingolipids (a type of lipid). They are growing heart cells and measuring the effect of either removing or adding a specific sphingolipid called SPTLC-3, Kovilakath said.

“We’re going to analyze the results and see how that affects the heart cells,” she said. “Does getting rid of that [sphingolipid] improve the heart cells, or does increasing it improve it?”

The work has ties to heart health, specifically to myocardial ischemia, which occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced, preventing it from receiving enough oxygen.

Smith said she was nervous at first, but has quickly grown comfortable in the lab.

“It’s nice to do some research and go further in depth,” Smith said. “And hopefully that helps me as I go to college and start taking lab classes — and beyond that as I continue to pursue my dream of becoming a surgeon.”

Abhay Dharanikota, a rising junior at Godwin High School, is also participating in RAM Opportunity this summer. Dharanikota is working with Janay Little, a third-year Ph.D. student in the School of Medicine. They are working with DNA to clone bacteria as part of Little’s research into issues related to E. coli.

“It’s hands-on, so [in the future] I can come back to the lab and know what I’m doing — how different machines work and know procedures and techniques,” said Dharanikota, an aspiring orthopedist.

Abhay Dharanikota, left, and Janay Little, in the lab at VCU.

VCU students and high school students interested in RAM Opportunity can contact the Graduate School at Newman said the Graduate School will likely begin matching applicants for summer 2020 in late fall of this year. Though the program is starting small, Newman and Tyler said it has potential to grow quickly given VCU’s breadth of academic programs and the size of the Richmond region’s high school systems. With that growth, Tyler said, would come a need and an opportunity for sponsorship — both within VCU and outside the university.

“That’s going to be a key to growing this,” Tyler said.

Little, Dharanikota, Smith and Kovilakath will present on their work July 25 at a luncheon celebrating the conclusion of the program. For Little, who one day hopes to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or as a medical science liaison, RAM Opportunity has been a way to continue her work and share knowledge with others.

“I’ve always liked interacting with people who want to learn something new,” she said. “I feel like the whole point of learning is to teach somebody else at some point.”



Continue Reading


RPS to close January 27th after more than 700 teachers request off to attend Fund Our Future rally

Richmond Public Schools may be closed today for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, but next week will also be a four day week for students and teachers after more than 700 faculty members requested off work to protest at the Fund Our Future rally at the State Capitol.



Richmond Public Schools may be closed today for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, but next week will also be a four day week for students and teachers after more than 700 faculty members requested off work to protest at the Fund Our Future rally at the State Capitol.

The rally, to be held Monday, January 27th, will see educators from across the Commonwealth descend upon the Capitol to advocate for more state funding for schools.

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras sent a note out on the school system’s website explaining that he was “proud” of the level of participation and that it would simply be impossible to find enough substitute teachers to cover for those attending the rally:

Dear RPS Family,

I’m reaching out to share an important change in our school calendar: RPS will be CLOSED on Monday, January 27. Please allow me to explain.

On that day, the Virginia Education Association (VEA) is hosting a “Fund Our Future” rally at the State Capitol to advocate for increased school funding. Based on data we collected last week, it appears that nearly 700 (about a third) of our teachers will be taking personal leave to participate in the VEA rally. We are proud that so many of our educators will be turning out to advocate for RPS and all of Virginia’s public schools.

Unfortunately, however, it is simply not possible to secure enough substitutes for this many classrooms. As a result, non-participating teachers would face unreasonable class sizes that would make meaningful instruction nearly impossible and potentially create significant safety concerns.

Given this – and after conferring with the School Board – I have decided to close RPS on Monday, January 27.

I recognize doing so will create an unexpected childcare burden for our working families. On behalf of RPS, I sincerely apologize for this. I also want to acknowledge that some of our families face food insecurity and depend on school meals for their children. In light of this, our nutrition team will be preparing “to-go” bags for students to take home on Friday afternoon.

Please note that our school calendar includes extra time to account for inclement weather and other unforeseen circumstances. As a result, at this time, no additional days will need to be added to the calendar.

Thank you in advance for your understanding of this decision. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at

With great appreciation,

Jason Kamras




Continue Reading


St. Gertrude School moving to Benedictine campus in Goochland, two to remain independent

The schools were once 400 feet apart in the Museum District and will soon be a mere 600 feet apart when St. Gertrude’s moves to Benedictine’s 50-acre campus in Goochland in 2021.



St. Gertrude High School in the Museum District, an all-girls Catholic school, will soon join their male counterpart, Benedictine, in Goochland County.

The two schools made the joint announcement on Friday. While the two will remain single-sex and independent, the combined entity will be known as The Benedictine Schools of Richmond.

Full release from the two schools follows:

The future of Richmond Catholic secondary school education just became a lot brighter. Today, after many months of collaborative strategic planning, we are proud to announce:

The Benedictine Schools of Richmond

This newly-formed entity will unify these two pillars of Richmond’s Catholic community — Saint Gertrude High School and Benedictine College Preparatory — on the same campus. Both schools will retain their names and operate distinct, single-sex educational programs. Of equal importance, this formalization places both schools in strong positions for growth and program development.

Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, just in time for its Centennial Celebration, Saint Gertrude will begin relocating to the 50-acre property in Goochland County currently home to Benedictine Prep. The boys’ school will remain in its current facility. For the girls, a new, state-of-the-art academic building is being planned. Together, the schools will share a peaceful, modern, and sprawling campus including the campus’s new, world-class athletic facilities.

Our schools have long been united in our distinct missions and spirit, in our belief in the unique benefit of single-sex education, and in our educational philosophies rooted in the Rule of Saint Benedict. For the better part of a century, our schools even shared a city block. Where the schools were once located 400 feet apart in the Museum District, they’ll soon be just 600 feet apart in Goochland County.

Indeed, this announcement is about much more than a new home for Saint Gertrude. It is about strengthening the foundation of Catholic education for our young men and women, now and well into the future.

As the Sisters and the Monks began to discuss the possibilities of a new, formal partnership and co-location, we considered diligently this opportunity through the lens of our respective values, missions, and visions. Our Orders feel wholeheartedly that such a partnership meets that high bar.

As Benedictine has experienced since its move from downtown (and as Saint Gertrude will experience in the coming years), the Goochland location is ideal not only for reflection and peace, but also for growth and innovation in education. And while single-sex education will always be a cornerstone of our schools, such a partnership will foster an even closer and nurturing community through which we strengthen each other. Proximity will allow the schools to share in their long-standing traditions while maintaining each school’s distinctiveness.

We understand you may have questions about what this exciting announcement means for you and your family. We encourage you to join our Heads of School Sister Cecilia Dwyer, OSB (Saint Gertrude) and Mr. Jesse Grapes (Benedictine) as they welcome our communities for a series of Town Hall meetings.

Current Parents:
Tuesday, January 21, 5:30 p.m. at BCP
Wednesday, January 22, 7:30 a.m. at SGHS

Wednesday, January 22, 5:30 p.m. at SGHS
Thursday, January 23, 7:30 a.m. at BCP

Prospective Parents:
Thursday, January 23, 5:30 p.m. at SGHS
Friday, January 24, 7:30 a.m. at BCP

Members of either school community may attend whichever meeting best suits their schedule.

On behalf of the Monks and Sisters of our Benedictine Orders, we look forward to beginning this journey with you and with your beloved children.

Sr. Joanna Burley, OSB
Benedictine Sisters of Virginia

Fr. Jonathan Licari, OSB
Canonical Administrator
Mother Mary of the Church Abbey



Continue Reading


Moody Middle School seventh-grader captures Henrico Schools’ divisionwide spelling title

Ananya Nanduru topped competitors from across Henrico County Tuesday night to become Henrico Schools’ 2020 Division-wide Spelling Bee champion.



Ananya Nanduru topped competitors from across Henrico County Tuesday night to become Henrico Schools’ 2020 Division-wide Spelling Bee champion. The Moody Middle School seventh-grader won in Round 8 by correctly spelling “breviary,” a book of daily prayers, hymns, and psalms.

The contest features spelling champions from 46 HCPS elementary schools and 12 middle schools, and determines who will represent Henrico County Public Schools at the regional competition. Pocahontas Middle School sixth-grader Weston Kasberger was runner-up.

Among the words Nanduru spelled to win the title were “schadenfreude,” “tritium” and “kielbasa.”

With Nanduru’s win, Moody retains the spelling title and Henrico Schools’ spelling trophy. Last year’s champion, Vishnoy Vadakkancheri, was also a Moody student. The trophy, topped with a whimsical bee, was made possible by a donation from four-time Henrico spelling champion Tejas Muthusamy. Muthusamy, now a student at Maggie Walker Governor’s School, donated money for the trophy to the Henrico Education Foundation, which had the trophy made.

Nanduru will compete next in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Regional Spelling Bee March 21 at the Library of Virginia. The regional winner will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is held in late May and televised by ESPN.



Continue Reading

Richmond Weather


Events Calendar